Disruption and challenges ahead

Producers are being urged to switch from a supply chain back to producers to a value chain that comes from consumers’ willingness to pay. Glenys Christian reports.

In Business10 Minutes

Producers are being urged to switch from a supply chain back to producers to a value chain that comes from consumers’ willingness to pay. Glenys Christian reports.

The next year will throw up more challenges than ever in agriculture. But lower carbon products is one area where New Zealand should be able to benefit over the next 10 years, along with the development of other emerging technologies.

At the recent Primary Industries Summit there was no dispute that freight disruption issues would linger for at least another year.

“You’ve got to drive 100 metres in fog to know where the fork in the road is,” said Alex Larsen, Air New Zealand’s global sales manager, cargo.

He said while there would be more stability in the next six months, there was still 12 to 18 months of reasonable disruption ahead, which would be tough,with China lagging behind other countries.

Affco group logistics manager Bevan Elphick said there’d been a lot of chopping and changing with shipping lines, but collaboration between meat companies had seen more product exported than otherwise would have happened.

Kotahi chief executive David Ross described logistics as “a big shipping traffic jam” at present, but behind that there was a good story of both competing exporters and shipping companies working together. He said the planet might be a winner too as shipping companies invested in new ships less damaging to the climate, they were taking the opportunity to get to the future faster.

“We might look back in 10 years and say it was a good thing.”

Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) director general Ray Smith said all the pieces of agriculture that made up the jigsaw before Covid-19 had not yet gone back together. He predicted a hard year ahead, but said the pathway would get better.

Smith said biosecurity systems for imports of palm kernel from Indonesia had been checked in the wake of the foot and mouth disease outbreak there and were looking good. MPI would have an extra 100 people on the ground within the next year based out of Wellington – the same strategy had worked well in the fight against Mycoplasma bovis.

Agricultural export growth was expected to flatten over the next year but then come away again, reaching a predicted $67 billion by 2030.

When remarking on all the manmade fibres in the conference room such as carpet, seat coverings and tablecloths, Smith made a market forecast.

“By 2030 sheep are going to be back big time,” he said, noting that an estimated 5% of landfill in the United States was man-made carpet that wouldn’t biodegrade.

EU trade deal

Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFAT) deputy secretary, trade and economic, Vangelis Vitalis hoped the recently signed free trade agreement with the European Union would be ratified next year, saying it was the best that could be achieved. From the European perspective the NZ market of five million people, which was already open, was worth nothing.

“I deal with the world as it is,” he said,“and what we’ve secured does shift the dial for us.”

Professor Caroline Saunders from Lincoln University’s agribusiness and economics research unit (AERU) urged NZ producers to focus on win–win situations and to switch from a supply chain back to producers to a value chain that came from consumers’ willingness to pay. Surveys AERU carried out of lamb consumers in the United Kingdom in 2019 and again in 2020 showed a lift in preference for locally grown English lamb. NZ lamb preference had lifted too, from 15.2 to 21%, and if it was produced on Maori farms the preference almost doubled from 20.2 to 39.7%.

Consumers favoured no added antibiotics or growth hormones, organic lamb, no animal welfare issues and improved water quality protection. While biodiversity protection and carbon-neutral lamb had a low ranking in the first survey, both increased markedly in the second, and carbon neutral had “come right up the radar screen” in another more recent survey.

“It’s really attracting a premium now,” Saunders said.“It’s one of the biggest variable changes we’ve seen.”

Silver Fern Farms (SFF) chief supply chain officer Dan Boulton said the company was close to introducing Net Carbon Zero by Nature lamb to be followed by venison. This would match similarly branded NZ beef recently launched in the United States, which aims to differentiate it from grain-fed beef through insetting rather than offsetting emissions, done by tracing the carbon lifecycle from on farm where 96% of emissions occur through to a consumer’s plate.

When it was launched by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in New York on her recent visit, SFF’s online profile in the US jumped 235% from the previous day. SFF was also mentioned 435 times in news articles, which had an estimated reach of 300 million people.

The company was now working to calibrate regenerative farming to NZ conditions and a farm assurance platform that had clear sustainability, ecological and biodiversity outcomes.

By 2030 SFF’s aspiration was to be a sustainable and nature-positive company.

Clarospec technology

AgResearch strategy lead, next generation consumer products, Dr Cameron Craigie said research had shown that while there weren’t consumer complaints, 70% of lamb was sub-optimal and the 30% that was of optimum quality wasn’t differentiated. AgResearch’s Clarospec technology used hyperspectral imaging to measure both intramuscular fat and pH levels. While consumers liked more of the fat, which is an inheritable trait, it was time-consuming to measure. High pH levels were linked both with animal welfare and shorter shelf life.

A prototype tunnel had been built and had been used successfully on both beef and salmon. Lamb loins had been scanned, which usually had about 2.5% intramuscular fat, while diners liked about 3%. Further work had shown a positive correlation between the loin measurements, which were lower in the fat, and other lamb cuts. The difficulty then became keeping track of the other cuts in a meat processing plant.

Craigie hoped the research work, which had resulted in one of the machines being installed in an Australian meat plant, would give a deeper insight into what quality meant to consumers. Standards could then be developed and the information given back to breeders.

Lincoln Agritech group manager, new materials, Dr Rob Kelly said it was taking wool into new areas. Kelly is also chief scientific officer for Wool Source, set up last year as a subsidiary of the Wool Research Organisation (WRONZ) to look into how wool could be transformed into particles, powders and pigments. As part of a seven-year research programme it had been able to convert 30 micron crossbred wool into a very fine powder that could be used in products such as moisturiser to protect against pollution. While the volumes of wool used were small, Kelly said this was just the beginning.

Another development where there was much wider scope was using wool powder to replace pigments, which are traditionally metal-based, in printing. Wool could also be deconstructed into its cellular components to give a greater surface area and absorption capacity for use in filtration. Fine extruded wool filaments could also be used in wool composite fibres, which hadn’t happened before, Kelly said.