Opinion & Analysis
OPINION: It would be easy to pooh-pooh the latest strategic plan for agriculture. After all, it follows at least 10 others in recent history, all of which have made little or no impact.
This one comes from the Riddet Institute, a bunch of university and government scientists, and is the work of a Thought Leadership Team - a name evocative of ivory towers.
But to accept that this plan hasn't a chance is to give up, admit that the task of harnessing the wonderful potential of the agriculture and food sector is beyond us.
Despite the fractiousness of several key industries - proof, as if we need it, that it will be a monumental task - the prize is too great to abandon.
This plan differs from the earlier ones by concentrating on the “how” of an agri-food strategy, more than the “what”.
The Riddet thinkers accept that the other plans have pretty much sorted out what needs to be done and that it is a plan of how to do it is now urgently needed. They're saying: “Enough talking, let's get to work”.
The “what” is to produce new, high-value foods and exploit New Zealand's reputation for environmental, animal welfare and food safety integrity to market them.
The “how” is to put more resources into increasing the numbers and skills of the people who will be needed to do this. Crucial to this is collaboration - between government and industry, and within industries.
A “what” and a “how” are no good without a “who”. It's one thing to have a plan, and know how to implement it. If you don't have the people capable and willing to do so, it will go nowhere.
No doubt we have capable leaders, but willing? Many would like to be, I'm sure, but they have more immediate priorities. They are focused on the goal of just making it through the next six months without going too far into the red. They have one eye on their balance sheet and the other on their competitors. Thinking ahead to 2025, as this strategy does, is a luxury they can't afford.
Lifting their heads is the biggest task. Fortunately, others in the sector have been thinking about this.
They have arranged to take these leaders away from the commercial hustle and bustle and bring them together in a stimulating foreign environment.
In keeping with its American setting, Stanford University in California, it is a called a boot camp.
The idea came about when New Zealand Merino chief John Brakenridge and Silver Fern Farms boss Keith Cooper were discussing their companies' collaboration through the Government's Primary Growth Partnership scheme.
Buoyed by their own successful example, they wondered how much more benefit could be unlocked for New Zealand if other businesses followed suit.
This month, about 20 agri-food business leaders will meet at Stanford to explore greater collaboration.
Why go all the way to Stanford? The United States is not short of innovative speakers with an understanding of food commodities and markets, and the university has a better chance of attracting them than New Zealand.
If evidence of greater collaboration emerges from this boot camp, and others that may follow, the sector will want the next obvious step to happen. That is for the Government to make its crucial contribution to the strategic plan.
And there's every reason to believe it will. The Government has shown admirable leadership so far, pledging $590 million to research and innovation through the PGP scheme alone.
It's tempting to urge the Government to act now, rush into setting up the Agri-Food Board called for by the Riddet thinkers and back it with sweeping legislative powers.
But the onus is on the agri-food sector's industries to show they are ready, that they deserve the Government's backing.
They are slow to show this. Even in an industry like dairying, which on the surface is a model of co-operation, there's no collective acceptance of the need for the improved environmental standards the Riddet plan says will be needed.
It is an example of the lack of will that has held back all the other reports. And if not changed, it is what will see this one gathering dust in a filing cabinet labelled Broken Dreams.
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