Primary sector needs a new story, NZ trade envoy says
New Zealand's primary sector story needs rewriting if producers are to reach their full export potential, Mike Petersen says.
Petersen, the country's Special Agricultural Trade Envoy, said the sector had plenty of untapped opportunity for growth but overseas markets saw New Zealand as "quirky".
"Nobody's really interested in New Zealand - they think we're quirky - and if New Zealand fell off the map tomorrow, nobody would care," Petersen told farmers and rural professionals at the launch of the Rural Business Network's (RBN) Taranaki hub in Hawera.
"Very few countries have grass-fed production like New Zealand and we're very highly regarded in the world of food - our food production and food safety are highly regarded offshore - but we need to make ourselves known and we need to push ourselves."
While Kiwi consumers heavily favoured locally-produced meat and dairy, the export market was another story, Petersen said.
Just three per cent of the world's dairy and five per cent of global sheep meat came out of New Zealand and that was something producers needed to keep in perspective, he said.
"The primary sector is locked at current production levels and our future is in value added products.
"But finding the right markets, convincing consumers it's a good product and getting paid, it's all harder to do in an overseas market."
Part of expanding the reach of exporters in existing markets and breaking into new ones would be revamping the country's primary sector story.
"We need to keep developing products to add value and we need to have the primary sector story behind them to take them to the global market.
"We assume people will buy our products because we know how good they are but we need to push our story."
Petersen pointed to Ireland's Origin Green initiative as an example of how a national sustainability development programme could boost the country's profile on the world stage.
The first programme of its kind in the world, Origin Green was designed by Bord Bia, the Irish food board, to promote the country as the optimum source of sustainably produced food and drink.
Launched in 2011, the voluntary programme extends across all sectors from farms and fisheries to food and drink manufacturers.
Food manufacturers are required to develop a sustainability plan with targets in areas of sustainability, such as emissions, energy, waste, water, biodiversity and corporate social responsibility activities.
As of November, more than 46,000 beef and 16,000 dairy farm owners were signed up to the initiative's farm audit programme and the wider Origin Green programme gave the country's producers a "stamp of authenticity", recognisable around the globe, Petersen said.
"It's a stamp that says animal welfare, food safety and environmental standards are being adhered to and it's the kind of stamp we need."
In the internet age, when news reached consumers almost instantly, it was important to have a solid brand backing the country's producers, he said.
"The cellphone has put us on the kitchen table of consumers and that's both a good thing and a bad thing.
"When we make advances or raise standards, the news is instant. But when we have food safety scares or animal welfare issues, cellphones let consumers know that, too.
"If we have a solid primary sector story, we can mitigate some of the damage that a one-off event might have."