Australian farmers love a field day, but in New Zealand in June almost the whole nation tunes in to learn what’s happening at Mystery Creek, home to the 50-year-old agricultural extravaganza, Fieldays.
There is no doubting the farm sector’s pulling power and economic clout across the Tasman.
The four-day showcase not only attracts almost 135,000 farmers, farm services players and many overseas business visitors, it’s the place to see just about anybody who is significant in business or government in NZ.
Cabinet ministers, trade diplomats, company executives, bankers and other big wigs can spend days at the southern hemisphere’s biggest agribusiness event.
Last week Governor General, Dame Patsy Reddy, was on hand to officially open Fieldays, flanked by acting Prime Minister, Winston Peters.
Agriculture Minister, Damien O’Connor, spent three full days at the 114 hectare site.
Even the heavily pregnant Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern – who was supposedly on maternity leave – made a surprise half-day visit to the pasture-rich Waikato region to join Fieldays crowds.
They do it well – agriculture works very much as one team in NZ
Buoyed by rising global milk prices and strong export demand in meat and horticulture markets, visitors opened their wallets and triggered about $500 million in on-site sales.
About $18 billion in agriculture sector revenue has been attributed directly to Fieldays in the past 49 years.
“There’s no doubt they do it well – agriculture works very much as one team in NZ,” said general manager of the southern Queensland-based Food Leaders Australia, Bruce McConnel.
He was one of the hundreds of Australians at Fieldays to work or simply observe what Kiwi farmers, agribusinesses and emerging innovators were up to.
“Everything from the practical value of the innovations to the quality of the food and corporate hospitality arrangements is impressive,” he said.
“You quickly recognise how much export markets are on the agenda for everybody involved in NZ agriculture.”
Mr McConnel joined a 35-strong contingent, including farmers and food processors, in NZ specifically to spend time learning how the Kiwis approach technology and business opportunities in agriculture, renewable energy and regional tourism.
They were part of a bigger delegation organised by the Toowoomba and Surat Basin Enterprise group which chartered the first flight to leave Toowoomba Airport for Auckland.
It’s impressive to see the support NZ Trade and Enterprise provides at Fieldays – forums and introductions to help local manufacturers
“NZ businesses and government seem to collaborate quite well to develop and refine their products and markets,” he said.
“In Australia it’s more a case of everybody for themselves.
He was impressed by the usefulness and practicality technology he saw in the innovation space at Fieldays – insulated dog kennels, automated stock handling gear, and more.
“It’s a bit different to Beef Australia in May, where innovation discussion seemed very focused on the Internet of Things and ideas that are still emerging, and needing good connectivity,” he said.
The uptake of wireless technology and solar-powered tracking equipment also impressed Dan Toohey from NSW’s Central Tablelands, one of 53 delegates from Australian field day organisations visiting Mystery Creek.
“A lot of new ideas coming out the NZ, particularly from the livestock sector, find interest in our rural market,” said Mr Toohey, chairman of Orange’s Australian National Field Days.
“It’s impressive to see the support NZ Trade and Enterprise provides at Fieldays – forums and introductions to help local manufacturers get products into Australia, the US, or South America.
“I heard they had about 250 people from overseas booked in to meet representatives from NZ companies.”
Given NZ’s farm sector has a limited local market to rely on, Melbourne-based NZ Trade Commissioner and Consul General, Stephen Blair, said exporting agricultural know-how and technology was an increasingly valuable part of the industry’s strength.
“NZ won’t get wealthy selling to ourselves, and we can’t really feed more than about 40m people from our farms, but we can add value by helping others produce food more efficiently and sustainably,” he said.
NZ was eager to launch into new trade alliances, particularly as Britain prepared to exit the European Union in 2019.
“While the UK has been a big trade partner for us in the past, we see Brexit as a positive opportunity to build new links once Britain’s no longer tied so closely to the EU,” Mr Blair said.
A trade opportunity
“Change to the status quo is an opportunity for us, and Australia.”
Agricultural markets were contributing significantly to a generally upbeat mood in the NZ economy.
Low inflation, low interest rates, low unemployment, a competitive exchange rate and a national budget surplus were encouraging the farm sector to take a strategic approach to seeking premium markets and building sustainable long-term ties.
“It’s about as good a time as I can remember across almost all commodity markets,” said NZ National Fieldays Society chief executive officer, Peter Nation.
“Our biggest frustration is that we don’t actually have enough to sell, particularly beef and lamb.
“As a small country at the bottom of the world we have utilised technology and the Kiwi can-do attitude to make our mark in global markets.
“There’s no escaping it, agriculture is the backbone of our economy.
“Change is always happening – and it can be hard – but we’re good at working together to deal with it.”
- Andrew Marshall travelled to New Zealand as a guest of NZ Trade and Enterprise.
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