Growers, farmers in it for the long haul

New Zealand's beef and lamb relies on its quality to survive in the international marketplace. Photo: Stephen Jaquiery.
New Zealand's beef and lamb relies on its quality to survive in the international marketplace. Photo: Stephen Jaquiery.
Is sustainability in the primary sector the future or a fad, asks Joanne van Polanen.

''Sustainability'' is the lexicon of the modern generation.

As we stare down a future that depends on a quantum shift to protect the planet and its resources, it is not hard to see why.

Today is World Environment Day, which brings a topical conversation into even sharper focus. While it transcends many disciplines, sustainability - put simply - delivers what we need today while safeguarding tomorrow.

The New Zealand Farm Environment Trust sought to promote leadership in sustainability long before the concept became conventional. As an ''early adopter'', some 20 years ago, we were on the road less travelled. Fast forward to 2019, and sustainability is having a coming-of-age moment.

No longer relegated to the fringe, but firmly in the consciousness - and conscience - of the mainstream, the pursuit to uphold its fundamental principles is effecting enormous and important change.

Consumers want and expect businesses to be responsible corporate citizens. According to Nielsen, 2018 was ''the'' year of the sustainable shopper as consumers demonstrated the change they want to see in the world. As values move from espoused to enacted, they are putting their money where their mouth is.

Millennials, in particular, are playing a significant role in heralding in change that aligns with their sense of social and environmental responsibility. They don't just want sustainability to be a mega-trend but the status quo.

While there is more to do, the primary sector is listening, and it is responding. Moreover, its relationship with the environment is being reframed, moving beyond just achieving compliance to a place where a commitment to sustainable production is commonly agreed as what is best. This is increasingly recognised as being essential to fulfilling our country's potential in producing food desired by the world's most discerning customers and because it speaks to their values, too.

This concept can also be seen in the changing dialect of our primary sector leaders. They are placing sustainability at the centre of their guiding strategies, such as the dairy sector's ''Dairy Tomorrow'', which includes, for example, a series of environmental goals.

In the international marketplace, the success of Beef + Lamb's ''Taste Pure'' campaign depends on the integrity of that statement. When consumers are getting a taste - literally - of your value proposition, there is nowhere to hide if the product doesn't do what it says on the packet.

It is reassuring our industry takes pride in leading by example, and it is of the utmost importance the momentum continues. If the upper echelons of the industry eschew responsibility, the domino effect has wide-reaching implications.

As a storyteller and advocate of sustainability, the trust recognises the concept in three ways - environmental, social and economic, appreciating the three are inextricably linked. We are proud to inspire best-practice farming and growing by highlighting exemplary producers.

These stories are compelling evidence there is nothing fad-like about the environmental initiatives farmers and growers are pioneering to do their part. From investing in new effluent management systems and irrigating with the latest precision technology, to riparian planting and setbacks, excluding stock from waterways, enhancing biodiversity, using solar energy systems, and committing native bush blocks to covenants, the list is exhaustive.

Yet it is recognised that more is required to meet community goals.

Ultimately, to ensure sustainability is more than just a buzzword in the primary sector - in any sector - we need to continue to walk the talk. Without taking purposeful and practical steps to act on the principles of sustainability, our great intent is no more than an impulse.

- Joanne van Polanen is chairwoman of the New Zealand Farm Environment Trust.

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