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Good For Growing Forum

The following speech notes were prepared for the Good For Growing Forum held in Napier on September 5. The all-day forum was organised by the NZ Institute of Agricultural and Horticultural Science, and the Royal Society. The notes were prepared for a panel discussion.


Hugh Ritchie

National Board Member

Good For Growing Forum

Napier, September 5, 2006

Thank you for the opportunity to talk to the Good For Growing Forum.

The question we have been asked to debate is: do our current agricultural and horticultural production systems meet all the needs of future generations of New Zealanders?

The simple answer to this question is no. They have never and will probably never cover all the needs of future generations. Do we even know what those needs will be? What I can assure you is that farmers and horticulturists have and will continue to change production systems to meet changing requirements and expectations.

The question also makes one stop to think about how much the lifestyle of a huge percentage of the population of New Zealand depends on what I and my fellow farmers do and the decisions we make now and in future

Overwhelmingly the wealth brought into New Zealand - the money used to pay for imported clothing, cars, building material, musical instruments, Xboxs and Ipods, comes as a result of revenue earned from farms.

If one of the needs is the growth of the economy and lifting living standards in New Zealand, then agriculture and its comparative advantages will be a key part of that equation. This being the case then the discussion is not solely about the environment.

It leads us into a discussion about the optimal use of our resources: land (which includes water), labour and capital now and into the future.

Farming is no more fixed in time than banking or the film industry. It is constantly adjusting.

The critical thing for farming, like all business, is to make sure that government interventions do not interfere with that continuous adjustment process. It is critical that rules and regulations do not prevent the rapid uptake of good ideas or send distorting signals

The subsidised and distorted pastoral production systems pre-1984 did not deliver for the needs of New Zealand farmers, let alone the economy. Nor did they deliver great outcomes for the environment.

Some will argue the free market doesn’t either, but I suggest responding to market signals which include a whole array of consumer demands has a better chance of delivering for the needs of most New Zealanders now and into the future.

It is not by accident that my family has moved from a 330ha mixed cropping farm in 1964 to the 1700ha cropping and pastoral farm of 2006. Market, regulation and profitability forces have driven the need for change. Scale, technology and market selection (including land use) are the sources of options to meet those forces of change. .

The way I farm today is very different from my father’s methods. Cropping on Drumpeel in Hawke’s Bay has moved from a full cultivation system with rotation to minimum till rotation with different crops and sowing dates. We also have GPS auto steer tractors and strip-tillage systems

However, to succeed with these systems I have had to use new ideas and science, while being careful to maintain profitability and control risk while the gremlins are worked out. I hope that when my two-year-old son takes over, if he wishes, that the scientists of today will have delivered even better tools – even perhaps, dare I say it, a genetically modified tool.

So going back to the question: are the agricultural systems meeting all the needs of future generations of New Zealanders. The answer must be no, of course, because neither the needs or the systems remain static. Agriculture is the New Zealand economy’s comparative advantage and it will need to continue to grow and hence intensify in the future. Equally issues like nutrient loads will need to be solved while maintaining profitability.

Science and technology will be a critical part of those solutions. Going forward a comprehensive approach from scientists, farmers, regulators and other interested groups that work on solutions based on growth will be needed. It is also critical is to ensure there is constant adaptation.

• Hugh Ritchie is a Hawke’s Bay farmer and national board member of Federated Farmers.


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