NZ streets ahead in sustainable farming


“It was a huge eyeopener, but for all the wrong reasons.”

That’s the reaction of Taranaki farmer Trish Rankin when she’s asked about last month’s Harvard Business School’s Agribusiness Seminar in Boston.

Trish, the 2019 Fonterra Dairy Woman of the Year, used some of her scholarship prize to attend the seminar.

It’s been running for more than 50 years and involves global agri-leaders meeting at Harvard to discuss the changing landscape of agribusiness and new tactics for seizing opportunities, overcoming challenges and leading change.

Trish says during the case study discussions over the four-day seminar, it became clear to her, and the two other kiwis on the course (Federated Farmers CEO Terry Copeland and Jessica Smith from Omiti Indigenous Agribusiness), how far ahead New Zealand is when it comes to responsible and sustainable farming and how little the other attendees knew about our kiwi farming model.

“Very few of the people I spoke to knew that New Zealand is a pasture-based, non-GMO/growth hormone and minimal antibiotic or pesticide-use animal protein producer. When we told them that we care for our cows like they are family members and our free-range ethos also extends to chickens and pigs they thought we were crazy people. The things we care about and concentrate on here, such as water quality, animal welfare, reducing emissions and caring for our communities, aren’t even on their radar.”

Most of the 190 attendees were consultants for huge corporate farms, or executives from logistics companies or agri-banks and Trish, one of only about a dozen ‘grass roots’ farmers, says it’s a shame many of the corporates have little or no commitment to, or belief in, environmental responsibility.

Trish Rankin, Terry Copeland and Jessica Smith

“It’s all about the dollar signs and how they can spend their profits. They nearly fell off their chairs when I told them we have banned single use plastic bags in New Zealand, or that our Co-op has a goal of zero waste to landfill by 2025, or the extent to which we want to reduce methane levels. I went to the climate change exhibition at the Natural History Museum in New York and there was no mention of agriculture at all. The entire display was about carbon emissions from industry and vehicles.”

Emerging global food trends were a big topic and Trish believes New Zealand has a prime opportunity to target a key psychological factor among consumers wanting plant-based meats or meat substitutes.

We can be the ‘Possible’ to the plant-based protein ‘Impossible’ customer. The Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat options are not targeted at vegans or vegetarians. They are marketed at the meat eater who may have concerns about the environmental and/or animal welfare impacts of eating meat. Our proven environmental and animal welfare credentials can help allay those concerns.

Trish Rankin, Taranaki farmer & 2019 Fonterra Dairy Woman of the Year

Using her North American experience as a snapshot Trish says food quality compared to New Zealand was like chalk and cheese, something that she had not expected.

“I didn't realise that global consumers of our products usually eat low-quality food. People I spoke to here thought eating antibiotic filled, chemical rich, factory farmed food from animals raised in cages or barns on GMO feed and given growth hormones, was just what you did. Premium products in the USA are what we eat every day here in NZ. And they pay for it. We went to a restaurant that specialises in paddock to plate type food, where you have traceability from the grower to the retailer. This is exactly what we do here, but as part of our supermarket shopping. You can easily access free-range or organic food without going to a specialised restaurant.

“We (New Zealand farmers) are producers of some of the world’s best protein, made in a responsible and sustainable way and that is a huge opportunity for us to compete and succeed internationally. We care about our consumers, communities and climate and I’m proud to be a farmer here.” 

Click here to find out more about Trish’s sustainability vision.