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Is the "Our Land and Water" National Science Challenge heading in the right direction to deliver?

Susan Goodfellow of Leftfield Innovation participated in the 2019 Our Land and Water Symposium, and reflects on discussions at the event.

We do a lot of great science in New Zealand, but we are failing to deliver results quickly enough compared with the changes we’re seeing in consumer preferences globally.

The recent 2019 Our Land and Water National Science Challenge Symposium posed a number of questions:-

  • Why does New Zealand need multifunctional landscapes,

  • What food and fibre systems can we scale up in the near future,

  • Who will be changing their land use and why would they change;

  • What are the future business models?

The Challenge is 2.5 years into a programme that will run until 2024 costing $96.9 million.

To answer the questions posed by the Challenge in my view creates a broader question:-

"How do we capture more value for New Zealand in the near term as we create new value in the long term?"

There are several elements that are required: Systems thinking and a future focused mindset; a commitment to insights led incremental change supported by science and new agile business models.

Conversations I had during this event and across the sector highlight the attention that is being paid to thinking ‘within the farm gate’ – this includes agritech.

We need to lift our sights and focus on identifying the consumers and markets we want to participate in to capture the most value for New Zealand.

The central driver to land use change is the global consumer, the future consumers of New Zealand’s agri-food, beverage and fibre products.

As an export dependant nation, our agri-food and fibre exports equate to ~$40b annually, which command an astounding ~$250b value in-market. Our lack of focus on transforming the raw materials we grow into high value products results in NZ capturing a mere 16% of the in-market value.

Consumer values are changing. The emerging values of nutrition, environment and ethics should guide us in our evaluation of what we grow, how we grow it and what high value products we create that match these consumer preferences.

The future agri landscape of New Zealand will be a mosaic of what we can grow sustainably – those plants and animals that have the attributes that consumers desire, for example nutritional value – heart health, gut health, infant and geriatric health, sports nutrition. From there we should develop innovative food products that match consumers preference capturing more value before the products leave our shores. We need to do this at scale, we need a pipeline of sustainably grown agri-food and fibre products.

Science questions will fall out of the market insights and product innovation work. Leftfield Innovation have found this to be true in relation to the initiatives we have underway around ancient grains and pulses. Consumers concern about the impact of production on the environment is driving a need for producers to deliver a provenance story underpinned by authenticated data. Regenerative Agriculture, Organics, biological farming were all referred to at the symposium by guest presenters. Ask the scientists if we can accurately measure the impact of individual or combinations of farm practices that make up these farm systems and the answers is no., we don’t have the tools. This is a great science challenge, that would enable us to respond to consumer demand and ideally capture a premium!

Transforming our agricultural landscapes requires consumer pull, not a regulatory push. Front end insight work to identify market opportunities, that fit with the attributes of the raw materials we can grow sustainably and the capability we have to transform these raw materials into food ingredients and products, would enable de-risked investible propositions for farmers to participate in. One could argue that developing these land use propositions is a commercial activity. However, I disagree. If we want to see real transformation sooner than later, we need to invest in the market/consumer led R&D work to fast fail opportunities and filter out those that work for New Zealand. If we don’t have this market led, innovation funded focus I believe we risk a collapse of our agri economy through the regulated response to climate change. We can get in front of regulation and lead with innovation – if we had the funding in the right place.

The Our Land and Water Science Challenge has 5 years to run. Time to take a truly market led, systems thinking approach and be one of the pathways that could deliver real on-the-ground impact for New Zealand agriculture.

Susan Goodfellow

Co-Founder, Leftfield Innovation Ltd

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