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On-farm productivity gains in the New Zealand sheep industry over the past 25 years have been an ''extraordinary story'', AbacusBio consultant Dr Peter Fennessy says.
Productivity, which drove profitability, had been increasing at about 2.5% a year, which he attributed to a combination of genetics and management.
There had been genetic improvement through consolidation of the ram-breeding sector and larger ram-breeding flocks, and uptake of new technology (rams and pasture) and better pasture management.
When it came to lamb growth rate and carcass rate, about half the gain was genetic and half was management while, with adult ewe lambing percentage, about two-thirds of the gain was genetic and about one-third management.
Speaking at the Innovation at Invermay field day, Dr Fennessy addressed the challenge to increase productivity by 40% over the next 15 years.
While it could be questioned why that would be emphasised, when farmers were not getting paid enough for their lambs now, he said farmers should focus on the things they could control.
Productivity gains had enabled them to keep farming sheep. Increasing productivity by 40% sounded daunting, but he believed it was realistic.
When it came to what farmers could do now to improve profitability on-farm, he said opportunities for now were to know where you were making money and what was costing money, capitalise on higher lambing percentage, look at management options and make a plan.
Thinking about the future and possible trends was helpful. Some future trends included volatility in climate and markets, customers would get closer to farmers' business and compliance would be more important and it would cost.
There was also structure of farming businesses, involving the next generation and getting the best minds into agriculture, food security, protein demand and water, and technology would ''surprise us''.
The one thing that was certain was that the future would be ''both surprising and challenging'', he said.
Asked for his thoughts beyond the farm gate, Dr Fennessy said the only solution he saw was to build brands. Those offshore said New Zealand had an ''extraordinary brand''.
''I don't see we've got a future unless we make ourselves an elite product,'' he said.