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The name of our agricultural game

Agriculture's worthy, yes. The under-pinning of our economy, yes. But sexy?

Agriculture’s worthy, yes. The under-pinning of our economy, yes. But sexy? No.

And while rural New Zealand might say to urban Kiwis (with some justification) “you just don’t understand”, the reality is farming’s missing a key ingredient.

At the heart of the matter lies the fact that New Zealand agriculture doesn’t own its story. In today’s world this means it is doomed to remaining stuck in the mud.

Without a story, you’re simply an undifferentiated commodity. It’s not as if we don’t have a fantastic narrative. Our nation’s birthright is a huge sum of science and knowledge in converting sunshine, soil and fresh air into protein products. Our pastoral production methods are copied around the world but because we’ve never claimed possession, we completely undervalue the inherent knowledge. We simply give it away.

Without ownership of our story, we can’t connect with the consumer. Today, consumers want to be part of important decisions such as what they eat. That connection is increasingly digital, internet-oriented, conversational and experiential. But, as Cantabrian Dorenda Britten of designindustry says, “You can’t buy into something until you name it”.

That’s what is missing – let’s call it a brand. Without a name the rest of our agricultural story flounders and without a brand for our key comparative advantage we can’t engage with the savvy, ‘price is less of an issue than perception’ consumer.

It also means we can’t leverage agritech product sales such as electric fences, pasture seeds and animal genetics to the wider world. The lack of a brand for our responsible pastoralism also makes it hard to justify or recoup further research and development monies, and makes it as dull as ditch water for young people. It would cost little – a change in attitude and a coalition of the willing.

The global market space for responsible pastoralism is vacant. All it would take for a reinvention of agriculture led by us would be to give our sustainable pastoralism a name – the rest would follow. Farming would be the trendiest thing in town.

Peter Kerr is a commentator and writer for hire, particularly in the science and technology areas, and blogs at sticknz.net.