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Economic independence or economic opportunity?

Economic independence or economic opportunity?

Bruce Wills is the President of Federated Farmers

In light of the recent botulism scare and having read the Listener editorial (A Terrifying Truth, 17 August), the oft-quoted words of Mark Twain comes to mind, “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated”. The shame is that many publications focus on what we get wrong instead of what we get right. Why not focus on constructive, well thought out solutions instead?

Having just read an email from the NZ Farm Environment Awards Trust, which rewards and acknowledges the great environmental work farmers do, for the life of me, I cannot understand why the positive stories are not featured more often. It begs the question, are farmers getting a fair deal in how they are portrayed in the media and why do we like to focus on the negative?

Is it helpful to run around shouting the sky is falling down because of a product recall? Not really. And is it a fair portrayal of an industry when only the negative is reported? We must focus on is the opportunities that are available to our nation from being fortunate enough to be what is known as the pastoral ‘sweet spot’. We have soils, water and a temperate climate whereas many countries do not. This provides a basis to build off, not to demolish.

Our biological economy provides the means to create new industries related to information technology, biotechnology and manufactured goods. In fact, the sky is the limit.

Some readers may benefit from re-reading a Listener column, penned by Brian Easton, from the early 1990’s (Listener 3 June, 1991), about the seminal Porter Project. Professor Porter, used the words ‘core competitive advantage’, and our primary industries fit that bill because we have the geographical advantage. It does not make sense to turn our backs on the resources made available to us, rather, let us use them to advance into new opportunities.

The point I wish to stress here is, we do not need to have an exclusively ICT and hi-tech economy, or one based around biology. We must in fact have both. Our top three primary exports are growing and we remain on track to double the value of primary exports to some $60bn by the year 2025. As a point of comparison, our top 100 technology companies export around five billion dollars each year so why not work hand in glove to build them?

The biological economy is here because of our unique combination of land, water and people. Speak to migrant farmers from Ireland to the Philippines and you quickly see that we are seen as the Silicon Valley of global farming. Making more of that, in all of its guises, is vital to advancing our economy. From grain loaders to precision agriculture to apps; the technology of farming is rapidly changing. We need to be on the same page to feel its true benefits. The reality is, if we drag our feet, we cannot make the most of our competitive advantage.

With the human race growing by two people each second, the world needs the resources to produce, process and distribute food. It is why the biological economy provides our economy’s skeleton, a point which was highlighted in a United Nations report several years ago. So let us not shun our pastoral ‘sweet spot’ rather let us build off it to develop the economic resilience our country needs.


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