Smarter farming the future of NZ agriculture

Smarter farming is about challenging all aspects of farming, knowing improvements are always possible and definitely needed

Some tough questions are facing all those involved with food creation in New Zealand. How do we move from commodities like milk powder to niche products that consumers believe in and pay more for?

Greg -Cambell

How do we provide proof to back up our food’s excellent backstory? How do we manage the trade-off between environmental impacts and economic prosperity? 

The answer to all these questions is smarter farming. Smarter farming is about challenging all aspects of farming, knowing improvements are always possible and definitely needed.

Three trends help set the context

1. More elderly people

In the time it takes you to read this, about 200 people arrived on Earth. New Zealand can only grow enough food to feed about 40 million out of seven billion people. So the question is: which 0.5% of the world’s population are we going to feed and how?

If the over-65s in China represented a country, by 2050 its population would be bigger than the UK, France and Germany combined. This could mean more demand for smaller pack sizes and added benefits, like lamb with extra Omega 3 for healthy joints.

2. More city-dwellers

More people will be living in cities meaning less space for storing and cooking food and more eating out. A lettuce from a vertical garden, insect protein shake or a 3D-printed lunch at your desk may provide daily nutrients, but perhaps it’s New Zealand cheese on the pizza in the restaurant, milk in the latte or ice cream in the hotel for the special moments.

3. More middle class people

Globally, there are 140 million people joining the ranks of the middle class every year – mostly in Asia – and protein is a bigger part of their family diet. Many will pay for food that has come from a trusted source.

But to command a premium, you need the proof. And that’s where technology helps: maps that show exactly how much fertiliser was placed where; robots that measure grass growth; laboratories that diagnose soil needs; algorithms that predict how much feed a farm will grow; coated fertilisers that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions; special aerial cameras that can assess soil nutrients remotely; and software that shows where best to tackle potential phosphate run-off and nitrate leaching.

Ravensdown is working on these tools today so that future generations and all users of our precious natural resources can benefit. There’s no silver bullet but we are part of the solution. 

Leaving the land in better condition than we found it is no idle dream. But it is going to take a lot of work. Our environmental consultancy, which assists with mitigations and compliance issues, is the fastest growing part of our business.

Our fleet of topdressing aircraft is being modified with computer-controlled doors so environmentally sensitive areas can be avoided.

As a farmer-owned co-operative, our commitment as nutrient efficiency specialists, is to supply the necessary amount of nutrients that nourish the soils – no more, no less – and help minimise losses for the benefit of the farm and the environment.

I believe smarter farming is the answer because it allows us all to adapt to looming disruption and ultimately benefits all New Zealanders.

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