By Jim van der Poel, Chair, DairyNZ

New Zealand’s pasture-based production offers a natural competitive advantage for our dairy products in the world market.

However, as competition increases internationally, the food industry is set for a revolution, not just due to the fundamental shifts in technology, supply chains and consumer behaviours, but also because of the planet’s environmental constraints.

NZ farmers already face higher public scrutiny from their communities. As people are increasingly driven by ethical, social and environmental concerns, farmers are looking for ways to be more cost-efficient, more productive, and more environmentally sustainable.

With this in mind we undertook a new strategic vision for the dairy sector last year, launching Dairy Tomorrow in November.

This strategy reinforces our belief that sustainable dairy farming has a critical role to play in maintaining NZ’s competitive advantage on the world stage. Even though just 5% of milk is needed for our domestic communities, with the rest sold to overseas markets, we are reliant on our communities for the sector’s social licence to operate. That ‘licence’ is our ability to prove dairying is sustainable, a factor critical to its future prosperity.

Our dairy farmers have taken significant steps over the past 15 years towards being more sustainable, but they know they need to do more. Overwhelmingly, throughout the development of the strategy Dairy Tomorrow, farmers told us they want more investment and research to provide them with new options to help them farm sustainably. This is also a priority for the Government.

At a climate conference in Germany late last year, Climate Change Minister James Shaw said NZ would be a world leader on climate change, and our Agriculture Minister, Damien O’Connor, and Environment Minister, David Parker, are committed to improving water quality.

Dairy Tomorrow, has set a direction in keeping with these priorities. Midway through this year we aim to announce milestones to help us take a leadership role in improving our environment, in particular focusing on our waterways and helping NZ meet our international climate change commitments. We also want to work with other sectors to develop a sustainable land use blueprint, and have all farms reporting under certified farm sustainability plans by 2025 – although this is expected to occur far sooner.

Alongside sustainability within Dairy Tomorrow is the commitment to maximise value from NZ milk. Our farmers want this, and so too does the Government – investment in ‘value add’ for the dairy sector is a specific ambition announced by the Prime Minister.

While milk as a commodity will always be an essential part of the NZ dairy value chain, I expect the amount of ‘value add’ processing will increase overtime. DairyNZ will be working with the dairy companies on this challenge and building consumer confidence in the quality of our product.

Through Dairy Tomorrow, we will be well on our way to building the world’s most competitive and resilient dairy farming businesses, focused on investment in innovation and improving farm performance to increase the value of the sector.

This includes optimising cows, grass and farm systems to achieve greater productivity and efficiency gains onfarm through innovations such as robotics.

One of the goals in this area is to develop a new sector-led ‘National Science Challenge’ by 2020. This will deliver the next generation of cutting-edge science and technology solutions for future farm systems. We also plan to grow NZ dairy exporters’ access to open dairy markets to equal 30% of global consumption by 2020.

One of the ongoing challenges is how to better support the dairy industry to achieve change more rapidly and at a larger scale. Much of this relies on the rate of adoption of new technologies by individual dairy farmers.

The commitments and goals go to the heart of our communities’ priorities, and Dairy Tomorrow commits us to proactive leadership to address these challenges in order to really improve lives through dairy. This year we are focusing on how to implement the 22 goals within the strategy. When we launched Dairy Tomorrow last year, I described this phase as the ‘heavy lifting’ part of the strategy.

That is not to underestimate the substantial effort of our project team, our industry partners, and our farmers in coming to an agreement on our goals and priorities. But following through with a well-thought-out plan about just how we will achieve these goals requires significant collaboration and boldness from the sector.