The Dairy Tomorrow Strategy charts a bold future that will be quite different from today. Delivering on that means our sector will need to make transformational changes.
Optimising and improving our current farming practices will not be enough. Challenges moving forward include price volatility, the availability of more milk alternatives, the need to reduce our environmental footprint, increasing demands from society for positive animal welfare, and the need to improve farmers’ wellbeing.
These are interconnected issues that cannot be tackled in isolation. In some ways, it is like a Rubik's Cube, where solving one face at a time will ruin the others. We need to look at the whole system.
A bold leap forward
That’s where DairyNZ's Rural Land Use project comes in. The aim is to redesign production systems that take into account the many challenges facing our sector, and the varying needs and perspectives of our stakeholders. Those stakeholders include farmers, the New Zealand public, the consumers of our products, and the animals.
It is about finding integrative systems, starting from an understanding of our stakeholders’ needs and goals. This project looks at dairying from outside of dairying – seeing it through the eyes of the world. Why? Because for New Zealand dairy to be sustainable and successful in the long-term, we must make products our communities and the world love, not only for their excellent quality, but also for the way in which they are produced.
Two new concepts
Working in collaboration with international experts, DairyNZ analyzed information, from interviews, workshops and written material, with a huge amount of reflection. Together we established some inspirational design goals (see image below), and developed two conceptual designs: ‘Local & Global, Naturally’, focused on natural solutions, and ‘High-tech, High control’, which applies whatever technology is needed.
These first two concepts were tested with different stakeholder groups, including members of the public, to gather their feedback and support. We saw a clear preference for natural solutions, which fits with the green-clean image that Kiwis have always tried to project to the world.
The feedback from this work gave us important clues on how we may transform our dairying systems to ensure we can continue to make products the world loves, and to ensure that our communities are proud of how we farm.
The Agro-ecological park concept (a second round of design)
With the material collected in the first stage, we had a second design round, working with experts, to refine these concepts, add more details, and keep making sure that they reflect the needs of our stakeholders
To achieve seemingly competing goals like improving financial and environmental performance simultaneously, we argue that a radical system re-design is needed.
Radical innovation can come from advances in technology or from a change in the “meaning” of the system. Here, we propose the latter avenue, and look for a new answer to an old question “what it means to be a good farmer?”.
Meaning is defined by purpose, and having a strong and clear purpose is a decisive feature of successful human endeavour. The new meaning of farming articulated here goes beyond producing food, it considers the multitude of functions that farming offers to society.
In our concept, there is a much greater focus on resilience, prosperity of rural communities and wellbeing. This would necessitate a much greater level of coordination among farmers, business and with other people active in the communities.
Purpose: to provide multiple benefits for those working with the land. These benefits include livelihoods, places to live, preservation of natural resources, leisure and wellbeing for people and animals. To obtain these benefits, multiples services are provided to the outside world. The system is integrally designed to holistically deliver on those benefits.
Design goals: achieve the purpose in ways that are durable, profitable, friendly to people, environment and animals.
Our claim: those benefits can be “maximized” by setting the boundaries of the ‘system to be designed’ at a territorial level (e.g. the catchment), to open up opportunities that are not available at the single farm level. Furthermore, there exist powerful solutions at the farm level that need to be enabled by actions at higher levels.
Overarching design: The concept proposed here is the "Agro-ecological park", analogous to eco-industrial parks; where multiple businesses on a territory collaborate in symbiotic relationships to obtain economic, environmental and social benefits. At the core, there is a coordinated business network, embedded in the local community and in the surrounding ecosystems.
Components that can be integrated in the overarching design: The overarching design contains many component solutions. Each of these solutions is designed with a main function in mind, but always trying to find synergies toward the purpose of the system as a whole.
Within farm boundaries
These are the most typical solutions
- managing stocking rates
- standoff pads
- diverse pastures
- best practice effluent management
- edge of field mitigation for water quality
- trees for shade and shelter.
Within farm boundaries, but enabled by actions at higher levels
- low impact dairy systems made viable by higher price from regional branding
- side businesses connected to the dairy farm made viable by scale achieved at the territorial level
- wetlands and biodiversity features connected to a larger network
- low N cows enabled by selection programs at national level.
At territorial level (i.e. across farm boundaries)
- land use planning
- interlinked biodiversity systems
- interlinked water management systems
- carbon sequestration at scale
- processing of raw materials
- local branding
- coordinated housing solutions
- coordinated dialogue with the rest of society
- a coordinated business network would be instrumental to put all this in motion.
Proposed implementation stage: establish an Agro-ecological park somewhere in New Zealand as a pilot.