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Visiting entrepreneurs help shed light on the future of farming

New Leadership Network member Margie Hunt looks back on the recent Agribusiness Hui, which brought together Leadership Network members and Southeast Asian agribusiness entrepreneurs to discuss the future of farming.

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A group of people wearing Asia New Zealand Foundation T-shirts sitting at a table chatting

Aptly timed with Fieldays, the Agribusiness Hui was a weekend where Leadership Network members and a group of visiting agribusiness entrepreneurs came together to share knowledge and learn from each other.

The first event of the hui involved round-table discussions at the Business and Innovation Centre at Fieldays, where small groups led by Leadership Network members and the visiting entrepreneurs discussed specific topics related to their areas of work.

In one group, Grace Sarasit from Thai dairy company Meiji Holdings was paired with Thomas McDonald from Spring Sheep – a company that specialises in producing milk products from sheep.

One interesting fact that Grace noted was that in Asia just having numbers on packets such as ‘25% RDI protein’ or ’10% less fat' or ‘5 essential amino acids’ has a significantly positive impact on sales. This would have been a valuable insight for Thomas Macdonald from Spring Sheep, whose milk powder is predominantly sold to Southeast Asia.

At other tables, discussions were being had about strawberry growing, insect protein, organic farming, and mushroom growing, with conversations flowing and radiating from these topics.

A man sitting down holding notes while talking to a group

The following day we convened in the Raglan Town Hall to continue our discussions.

Listening to the speakers, it became apparent there is an incredible amount of overlap with the difficulties encountered throughout all agricultural industries as well as cross culturally. I could relate to every person’s story in one way or another.

What was the most eye opening and what I found quite profound was the lack of access to funding in Southeast Asia for businesses tied to the land. It was explained that to a high degree this is due to the volatility of weather, with investors not willing to take the risk on backing a farmer whose profit margin to some extent is at the mercy of the climate.

These town hall discussions were followed by a cosy dinner together at one of the houses we were staying at. Thunder and lightning was close by - keeping us on our toes - but with the fire going we were warm and comfortable and had some interesting discussion on the future of the food industry.

The question “What would our dinner look like in 2050?” was posed to the group. As entrepreneurs, business leaders, manufacturers and farmers, this question was relevant to every person in the room.

Much of this discussion was centred on products such as those from Bex and Peter of Anteater as well as Bicky of CricketOne, who supply alternative proteins from bugs!

Many of the consumer drivers of food production, apart from cost, are toward healthier, more sustainable, fresher and less processed foods. This in turn leads to lower inputs, therefore lower (food) output. No longer are we focusing on the commodities but instead the value-add products.

Over the course of the evening, we concluded that if we need more space for more crops to be sustainable in regard to land use and environment, then we need to utilise the 40 percent of edible food that is currently discarded.

To do this we would need to change the understanding of what is edible and how we as a global population can better understand food production as a whole.

Six people looking up at the camera for a group selfie

Stopping the culture within the supply chain of throwing away food because ‘it isn’t the right shape’ for sale, is an easy solution with no extra costs associated. There are no set up costs, there are no manufacturing changes. No cost, but incredible gain.

Many companies have initiatives that are focused around this. Reducing this waste is fantastic for all parties involved, from the environment, through to the farmer, supplier, manufacturer, wholesaler, retailer and, most importantly, the consumer.

Sunday started the right way with delicious  Raglan Coconut Yoghurt from Tesh Randall – a local manufacturer who joined us for the weekend's activities. With breakfast eaten, we were back on the road heading to Zealong Tea Estate, our final destination before everyone went their own way.

As the weekend progressed, perspectives changed as we got to know everyone’s backgrounds, cultures, and industries. I left feeling inspired and in awe of the incredible achievements of those who attended. It was clear that despite the hurdles, everyone had forged their own path and are change makers in their own right.

Margie was raised on a Waikato dairy farm and now works as a food technologist. She continues to have an interest in farming, particularly encouraging the next generation to think of farming when considering their career options and changing the way farming is portrayed in the media and percieved by the non-farming public.

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23 July 2018