Speeches

Speech: DairyNZ Board Dinner

Wednesday, November 19, 2014 - 09:17
Food Safety
Primary Industries

John [Hon John Luxton, Chair Dairy NZ], Tim [Tim Mackle Chief Executive] and members of the Dairy NZ Board for organizing this event.

I would like to acknowledge my Parliamentary colleagues: Hon Damien O’Connor, Ian McKelvie, Barbara Kuriger, and Fletcher Tabuteau.

There are also a large number of CE’s and leaders from business, government and local government here, including Kingi Smiler, Chairman of Miraka and Laurie Margrain, Chairman for Open Country Dairy, and Martyn Dunne, Director General of the Ministry for Primary Industries.

You asked me to speak on key priorities for me in my role as Food Safety Minister and for the Ministry for Primary Industry.

I will therefore concentrate on environment, water, skills and capability, as well as some comments on Food Safety.

This is a valuable time for discussion.  There is an appropriate balance between environmental and social goals, and economic growth. Both of these can be achieved, and it requires collaboration between industry and government.

It is 200 years since the first dairy cows were brought to NZ. Over that time dairying has become deeply embedded in the Kiwi culture.

Our dairy products are now exported to over 140 different countries; it’s the major industry that keeps our economy afloat- contributing over $17 billion this year.

This government has a goal of doubling the value of our exports by 2025, which will require industry growth and innovation.

New Zealand is fortunate that as the dairying industry has expanded and commercialized, that strong sense of Kiwi environmentalism has been retained.  

Our reputation is built on high quality and safe products, robust evidenced-based systems, and environmental sustainability.

Much of the research carried out in New Zealand looks at how our dairy farms can continue to operate productively with less environmental impact. It is vital we preserve our reputation for high quality produce.

Dairy NZ plays a significant role in maintaining a positive, forward looking and reflective culture amongst the New Zealand dairy sector. 

Dairy NZ is also collaboratively mitigating some of the key environmental issues faced by the industry. By linking world class farming practices to the farmer’s role as custodian-of-the-land, you are providing invaluable advice to Kiwi farmers on a daily basis.

I am aware of several examples around my electorate in Canterbury, where Dairy NZ is supporting farmers to take the lead in developing solutions to water management challenges. It is this sort of collaboration that will ensure practical solutions are found to our dairying issues.

I recently met with representatives of the World Farmers Organisation, who were impressed by our collaborative approach to water.

Dairy farmers here have, largely voluntarily, excluded stock from about 24,000 kilometres of significant waterways.

We are looking to introduce this as a mandatory requirement by July 2017- and we will work with industry to ensure that it is implemented in a sensible way.

Alongside such proactive initiatives, we are looking to better equip communities around the country to maintain and improve the quality of their lakes and rivers for future generations. This will be a ‘long game’ – to think otherwise would be deluded.

The government investment of $100 million over 10 years to further enhance the quality of freshwater through the purchase of strips of land alongside vulnerable waterways is another commitment to the long term improvement of freshwater. 

Now moving onto skills and capability, to achieve our goal of doubling exports by 2025 we need to ensure that industry has the right people with the right skills. 

Already there are 350,000 people in New Zealand employed in the primary sector.  By 2025 that number will be closer to 400,000.  

Earlier this year Dairy NZ, MPI, and Beef and Lamb New Zealand jointly commissioned a report to forecast future capability requirements to keep our primary industry internationally competitive. This valuable piece of work will point us towards the present and future skill gaps.  The task ahead will require creative thinking, not just business as usual.

Data from Ministry of Education shows that of the more than 25,000 domestic bachelors graduates in 2013, just 350 graduated in a primary sector related discipline.

I saw a recent comparison of 100 agricultural science degrees and 130 in complementary medicine!

We have a lot of work to do if we are to speed up interest and uptake in these fields.

Agricultural Science, Farm Management and Agribusiness are all key fields for the primary sector. Fortunately we have seen gradual increases in student numbers for these fields in all qualification levels (certificate, diploma and degrees) over the past two years.  

Currently only about 10% of students study agriculture at year 12, and only 2.6% go on to study it in their final year at school. Unfortunately, 30% of those students also fail University Entrance, and only 28% go on to study an agricultural related discipline at university.

We are not getting enough high achieving school leavers into agriculture related studies at bachelor degree level. But not only that – we have over six thousand commerce graduates each year and we also need to be attracting some of them into the primary sector.

Our future capability forecast showed that those qualified in management, commerce, engineering, or construction would also be in hot demand in the dairy industry.  

By 2025, businesses are likely to be larger, more productive, and using more technology.  We are going to need strong business expertise in the sector.

As a rural economy, our primary sector should be the natural place for those bright young business grads to begin. We need to do more to encourage and promote the sector as an attractive and fulfilling career option to our talented young people.

Let’s take time to assess the entire pathway through education to see if it is fit for the purpose of achieving our goal of 50,000 or more.

The promotion of the primary sector industry starts at our schools. I attended a function at Parliament last week where I spoke with a group of career advisors and teachers. There was a consensus among many of them that the message needs to get to the parents and grandparents as much as to the students.

If we want to attract talented young people into the primary sector we need to make them, and their parents, aware of the opportunities (and salaries!) available to them in the sector. 

The Ministry has teamed up with Dairy NZ to launch the Enterprising Primary Industry Career challenge, to encourage high school students to identify careers within the primary sector.

These industry-government initiatives are invaluable in our goal to help the sector attract and retain talent. 

After the election I took up the role of Minister for Food Safety.

The breadth of the portfolio, and its importance to maintaining our deserved reputation as a safe and reliable supplier of food to the world, is staggering.

We have bilateral cooperation agreements relating directly to food safety with over thirty countries. We are also actively engaged in a large number of Sanitary and Phytosanitary agreements under our Free Trade Agreements.

These agreements ensure ongoing cooperation and collaboration, with activities spanning from the provision of technical assistance and project support to tackle foot and mouth disease, to the exchange of food safety research, and issues for example in the growing halal meat market. 

New Zealand has a world class dairy industry, and our expertise is often called for to help our trading partners strengthen the long-term development of their industries.

Our food safety reputation is central to the success of our primary industries and ensures continued access to export markets.

We want our consumers, regardless of where they are in the world, to continue to have confidence in our products. To ensure that New Zealand can meet the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead, we are strengthening the food safety system.  

Some of the key initiatives underway include developing regulations to implement the Food Act 2014, establishing a Food Safety Science Research Centre, the Food Safety and Assurance Advisory Council, the Dairy Traceability Working Group and the Dairy Capability Working Group.

Recent events, and I mean that in the plural, have proven to us how hard we must work to maintain the reputation we have for food safety. Complacency for government and industry will be our enemy. Reputations take years to build but can so quickly be brought down.

Dairy NZ’s input into some of these key areas of work I have mentioned tonight has been, and will be, critical to their success. The relationship the Government has with you is a valuable one. The success of our primary industry, and our food safety system, requires both government and industry to build a common culture together.

We are committed to building a stronger economy for New Zealand, and for our farming regions, while doing this in a collaborative, sustainable and responsible way. I think we can be proud of the collaboration to date between government and industry.

Thank you again for inviting me to speak here tonight.