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E-farming – A Platform for Business Success

Hon Paul Swain

Speech Notes

14 June, 2002

Good morning and thank you to Barry Quayle and the rest of the Field Days board for inviting me here to speak to you this morning.

As you know, the government has made a strong commitment to building a knowledge economy in New Zealand. Earlier this year the PM announced our Growth and Innovation strategy aimed at lifting New Zealand back into the top half of the OECD. Part of the strategy will focus on three key sectors of the economy: Biotechnology, Information and Communication Technologies and the Creative Industries. The reason these three were chosen was because - as well as being high potential sectors in their own right - they cut across all other sectors as well.

In each of these three areas a taskforce has been set up bringing together some of New Zealand’s most successful entrepreneurs to generate ideas and work on strategies to help New Zealand grow these sectors.

The biotech and ICT sector are of special relevance to the farming community. The emerging biotechnology industry represents an enormous opportunity for the farming sector, together with scientists and business people, to create new high value products from what we produce from the land. Our world-leading agricultural and horticultural industries give us a big head start in this area.

The area for which I have responsibility, information and communication technologies, is becoming a more important part of farmers lives everyday.

With an already high use of computers on our farms, New Zealand farmers have the ability to seize the opportunities opened up by the internet to reduce costs, increase efficiency and develop valuable new products.

This is why I am delighted to announce on behalf of the Mystery Creek Field Days that the theme for the 2003 Field Days will be “e-farming”. This will be a significant opportunity for the rural sector to show case its use of information and communications technologies. I hope too that it will focus the minds of farmers and the hundreds of companies who service the farming industry on the new opportunities being opened up through electronic commerce and the internet.

In recognition of the importance of the farming sector we have the Vice President of Federated Farmers Tom Lambie on our E-Commerce Action Team to keep the linkages tight as we encourage the effective use of e-commerce in the rural sector.

E-commerce presents many opportunities to the New Zealand farmer. More than ever farming is an information rich activity. Whether it is analysis of pasture growth and fertiliser application or fast access to data on daily milk production, the internet plays an increasingly important role in daily farm management.

- Farmers can now go online to buy farm items and stock, quickly comparing prices from a wide range of sources.

- As a store of readily available information on past and current on-farm research and farm management programmes, the internet is unequalled. Innovative companies like Fonterra and Alliance have for some time been providing historical trend information and day to day farm production information to farmers online.

- Perhaps the biggest opportunities that e-commerce presents to New Zealand farmers are better access to markets and market information and reduced supply chain costs. With the improvements in communication between buyer and seller being offered by e-commerce, premiums can be obtained from the market with the potential to hold or even improve margins.

- E-commerce also has the potential to fundamentally change rural New Zealand. The internet can provide more diverse employment opportunities in rural areas through its ability to transfer large amounts of information to and from any point in the globe. Face to face contact is no longer required in many workplaces and people can make lifestyle choices about living and working in a rural environment.

- In addition central and local Government are helping rural people to save time and money by enabling them to do things such as fill out forms and apply for permits over the internet.

But the Government recognises the fact that it is difficult to extol the benefits of the internet to farmers, when many struggle to get a decent phone line. We have listened to the concerns voiced by farmers about the poor state of telecommunications infrastructure in many rural areas. Clearly it is not acceptable to have technology, which is available to people in our major centres not available to the rural community, which generates much of New Zealand’s wealth.

This is one of the major reasons why the Government has committed tens of millions of dollars to providing broadband Internet services to all of our schools and surrounding regions. That initiative, announced in the budget, will mean that most schools will get broadband internet by 2003 with the most isolated schools receiving it by 2004. As a by-product of the schools being covered, broadband internet will reach 75-85% of the wider community. A further 5-10% may be reached depending on the outcome of the tender process. Several regional communities are currently working on initiatives to provide broadband internet to even the most isolated farmers. I want to particularly praise Fonterra and Fencepost.com for their efforts to make e-farming a reality.

In the coming years the Internet and e-commerce will affect all aspects of rural business and life. Field Days 2003 aims to showcase the e-commerce opportunities available today and explore the possibilities ahead.


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