New Zealand is perfectly placed to lead a new "green" revolution to drive continued productivity gains in agriculture, Federated Farmers president Bruce Wills says.
Wills told the farm lobby group's national conference in Auckland the world needed a "second green revolution", similar to the first in the 1960s, when technologies around pesticides, fertiliser and new hybrid seeds combined to "supercharge agriculture".
The way forward for agriculture was to use skills and knowledge in the biological and physical sciences to increase production and the value of products, Wills said.
"Sciences, such as biotechnology, provide the means to multiply the value of the commodities we excel in producing. If we are to be true leaders in agriculture in leading a second green revolution, we mustn't constrain ourselves to old technologies.
"We should instead be prepared to consider new technologies, such as genetic modification and nanotechnology, but only when we can be certain it will benefit our economy and, of course, our environment."
The right science ecosystem would allow for research and its outcomes to be commercially realised in New Zealand, he said.
"Agriculture provides the economy with its skeleton, but it is up to the physical, but especially the biological sciences, to make the most of our core competitive advantage represented by land, soil, water and people."
Global food security issues presented New Zealand farmers with enormous opportunities, Wills said. "The world is hungry and growing, and we are very good at producing high quality food the world wants. Our challenge is to produce more food from a reducing land area and with a smaller environmental footprint."
Primary industries exports grew 73 per cent over the past eight years, Wills said, from about $18.5 billion to $32b in 2012.
"So long as we don't trip ourselves up environmentally, there is no reason why yields and value should not rise further. By June 2020, my crystal ball predicts that primary industry exports will well exceed $40b."
Export growth in recent years was driven mostly by the dairy sector, Wills said. Dairy exports grew a "staggering" 140 per cent, from $5b in 2004 to $12b today.
"Through Fonterra's alchemy of marketing and supply chain logistics, they are now on the cusp of smashing the $20b revenue barrier.
"Very few realise just how big or important Fonterra is as our one true world-scale corporate. Dairy alone is over a quarter of all this country's exports," Wills said.
The $20b revenue barrier made the debate over Fonterra's future "the New Zealand business story of the decade", Wills said.
"With TAF [Trading Among Farmers] now voted [in], let's hope dairy farmers unite and continue to grow this very important company."
- © Fairfax NZ News