A clear message received: New Zealand needs a pan-industry strategy

Despite a lukewarm response to the idea of a pan-industry strategy as first mooted by KPMG in its Agribusiness Agenda 2011, the response from nearly 100 top primary industry leaders this year was resounding: The time has come for clear direction on what New Zealand’s agribusiness and food strategy should be to take us through to 2030.  And the cornerstone of that direction will have to be – some 81 percent of leaders agree – a strategy that takes advantage of our strong co-operative foundations.

ian proudfoot future farming We were given many and varied reasons for the need to develop a pan-industry initiative, although the common theme came down to the simple message that everybody generally does better when people work together. Many leaders suggested that we simply can’t afford not to work together. As the only developed country that relies on the primary sector to underpin our economic wellbeing, we not only have to be as good as the rest of the world – we have to be better.

 Many believe this is only achievable by developing a clear vision of the potential of New Zealand‘s primary sector; and building a broad coalition of industry, government and the wider community to deliver on these objectives.

There is a firm belief that everybody will generally do better by focusing clearly on the strategic issues facing the sector; rather than the day-to-day tactical issues that consume so much time currently. Now is the time for the diverse companies that produce New Zealand’s food, fibre and timber products to explore how they can work together – with the government – to make the primary sector New Zealand’s pathway to prosperity.

Importantly, the strategy must not become just another report on the shelf. This will depend heavily on the passion and commitment of the people involved in envisioning the strategy. Their ability to engage, enthuse, lead and motivate every other person in the primary sector to buy into the vision will be the key to whether the initiative is transformational or theoretical.

 The language of collaboration

Our conversations in preparing this year’s Agenda focused on opportunities for companies, industry good organisations and governments to collaborate more extensively than they have done in the past. Again, effective collaboration is reliant on people being prepared to invest the time and effort to explore opportunities. It also requires having the right forums in place for initial connections to be made.

It was recognised that sector-specific industry good organisations have a role to play in the future of the primary sector. They have the potential to be the collective voice of a sector to government and the wider population. To achieve this, they must be fully engaged with both their levy payers and organisations at all points of a sector value chain. They also have key roles to play in people development, defining sustainable production standards, and steering inter-generational innovation.

All parties on the value chain working towards a common goal

We can say with certainty that industry leaders want opportunities to collaborate for commercial benefit. And collaboration is happening – but there is a long way to go to achieve the level collaboration from producer to customer that’s required to consistently meet customer needs around the world. The connection between farmers and the processors still creates challenges in the meat sector, for instance, while a lack of scale limits the potential of many of our horticultural product groups. The kiwifruit sector has been successful because growers believe they ‘own their own future’ through their involvement with ZESPRI. The challenge for other sectors is how they replicate this level of engagement to align their sector to its market.

What is the current state of collaborative activity in New Zealand agriculture?

 The view of industry leaders on industry collaboration was fairly consistent. They believe there is not enough collaboration. And when it does happen, it’s often reactive rather than proactive. So what are the barriers or challenges to effective collaboration?

 An extensive range of challenges were identified, many of which were considered to be historical and entrenched. For example, there’s a ‘them and us’ feeling from smaller industry sectors dealing with the dairy industry. There is the inability of individuals to leave their self-interest at the door in searching for the best solution. And there are companies failing to recognise the synergies that collaboration could deliver.

There were overly-ambitious initiatives, launched with a big bang but only to fizzle out rapidly when the goal of being ‘all things to all people’ became unachievable. Add to this a widely-held view that there is a lack of appropriate forums for collaborative opportunities to be explored, and the limited time leaders have to spend reflecting on wider issues beyond those facing their own organisation. All together, the situation could be viewed as fairly dire.

On a more positive note, there are areas where collaboration is occurring. Individuals, companies and sectors are sharing ideas and generating opportunities to create value for themselves and the economy by starting ‘what if’ conversations.

In short, when people can see mutual commercial benefits they are prepared to invest in a collaborative activity – because it makes commercial sense to do so. This has been demonstrated by the wide range of organisations that have been prepared to join into consortia and seek government co-investment in Primary Growth Partnership (PGP) schemes.

On a more general note, it has been noticeable in preparing this year’s Agenda that thinking among industry leaders is becoming increasingly aligned. More leaders are talking about ‘we’ rather than ‘I’ in respect of initiatives that they are involved in. Consequently, a pan-industry initiative is not seen as significant jump, but the logical next step to build on the commonality of thinking.

Next issue: what might a pan-industry initiative look like in practice?

Our suggestion: Develop a national primary industry strategy with industry and government working together. This should encompass a vision for the wider industry and the necessary actions to implement it; as well as explore the need for an industry-wide brand or integrity mark.

This story originally appeared in Primary magazine. Click here to subscribe.