I recently attended the Annual NZIPIM Conference in Christchurch. The theme of this meeting was sustainability in the Primary Industries sector and how we need to transition from the status quo to a more sustainable approach to farming in NZ.
Both our Drystock and Dairy farmers are being subjected to increasingly tougher environmental regulations and social scrutiny, and it was refreshing to see this being recognised and addressed by professionals in the sector. There is overwhelming agreement that our farm systems need to change, even at a simplistic level my 10-year older daughter can comprehend this. She was even so kind as to leave a rather gloomy diagram in my notebook summarising her view!
However, there’s still no consensus on what “sustainable” means and what a sustainable farm system looks like. There’s even less of an idea of how we’re going to make these changes while remaining profitable. As “consultants” and “advisors” it’s our job to lead the way – but what does this path look like?
Let’s think about the term “sustainable” for a second. This can mean different things to different people, but I thought Kirk Hope from ANZ summed it up best in his presentation; “Can you make that decision 100 times over without unintended consequences? If not, then it’s not sustainable”. This leads us to the realisation that to attain “sustainability” we need to look at the framework we are making our decisions within.
As a farmer, what’s the biggest “pull” when making decisions on farm? Is it financial performance, scalability, or market driven? And are these decisions necessarily sustainable?
Perhaps all we require is a mindset change. Yes, the need to meet environmental compliance is pushing us to be more sustainable but what if we could become compliant and profitable as an outcome of the way we make every day decisions on farm?
The biggest driver of profitability on farm is efficiency and it’s also key to reducing our environmental footprint. So, what are the practical steps we can offer farmers right now that will decrease their nutrient losses and make their farms more efficient, all while remaining profitable?
There are many options here, and as I’m sure we’d all agree there is no one “silver bullet”. It’s a combination of changes that will achieve the desired outcomes but at the core of it lies our biggest resource – our animals. These are the “money makers” and they’re also the “polluters” so to speak.
So how can we really improve efficiency on our farms? I would say why don’t we ask the animals! By using the health, welfare and nutritional requirements of your animals to guide your decisions around feeding, pasture management and soil amendment, you find the outcomes are beneficial to both the bottom line and the environment.
Currently environmental and social compliance is driving our sustainability goals, but no-one likes to be pushed into anything. Instead let’s rethink the way we approach this. If we use a decision-making process that delivers many of the desired outcomes, while making farms more profitable, then suddenly “sustainability” looks much more attractive.
So, when push comes to shove, what will be your pull?