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New Zealand must conduct its own research to better understand the benefits of regenerative agriculture "on its unique ecosystems" before strong claims can be made to the public, a newly-released report says.
The research, commissioned by Beef + Lamb New Zealand and New Zealand Winegrowers, into its market potential showed there was "significant opportunity" to take advantage of the trend.
Insights suggested it had strong potential to address consumer preferences around taste, health, environment and social impact while commanding a market premium.
But to boost the likelihood of that outcome, more awareness, education and research must be done to further prove potential connections between regenerative agriculture and ecosystem benefits, taste and human health, should New Zealand wish to pursue it aggressively, the report said.
"In order to build and maintain trust with consumers, one must be highly cautious of overpromising the benefits that regenerative agriculture has on the environment, taste and nutrition until more rigorous research is conducted.
"Many of the claims about regenerative agriculture that were presented to consumers in this study for feedback were theoretical or merely aspirational claims that regenerative agriculture has the potential to achieve," it said.
In a statement, B+LNZ chief executive Sam McIvor said regenerative agriculture — although still in its infancy — was gathering momentum and set to become a significant trend in food internationally.
"Brands are beginning to follow the leads of farmers and growers in the support of regenerative agriculture and, while the concept has yet to properly take hold among consumers, this research reveals there is a bright future.
"Fortunately, we believe the majority of New Zealand’s sheep and beef farming practices naturally align with key pillars of regenerative products or production.
"This isn’t to say all farms are applying all regenerative agriculture principles all the time but, in general, New Zealand is better placed than other countries to meet these requirements," he said.
Nick Beeby, general manager market development at B+LNZ, said in the absence of a clear unified definition of regenerative agriculture globally, New Zealand must define what "regenerative" meant in a New Zealand context.
He believed it was a "great opportunity"for New Zealand. Consumers were looking for products that tasted great and were not only good for them but also for the animal and the planet.
Covid-19 had "absolutely" amplified many consumer trends and consumers were thinking more about their purchases.
One of B+LNZ’s roles was to seek out new opportunities and create more value from farming practices. It had identified there was an opportunity and that was very much the first step.
Now it was about working with farmers, meat processors and marketing companies to look at how to capture that value and makes sure returns ultimately went back to farmers and consequently rural communities.
Meat Industry Association chief executive Sirma Karapeeva said some processors and exporters were starting to see potential for New Zealand to capture value in the regenerative space.
Shane Kingston, general manager sales at Alliance Group, said it was clear there were different interpretations of regenerative agriculture and it was important the sector landed on a robust and transparent definition.
But the latest research was an important contribution to the discussion and it aligned with what Alliance was hearing from its customers and consumers in its markets such as North America who increasingly wanted to know where their food was coming from and how it was being produced.