Farmers are natural entrepreneurs.
Here in New Zealand, as we work to produce the food that our country and the world needs, we take risks, see solutions to challenges when they arrive, and solve problems. We’re constantly questioning and changing what we do. Many of our efforts these days are devoted to the economic and environmental sustainability of our operations.
And we approach it all with a spirit of entrepreneurship.
My biggest obligation is with Craigmore Farming, where I support farm managers as they oversee their teams, farms, and animals. We run 22 dairy farms and one dry-stock farm on New Zealand’s South Island, with about 17,000 dairy cows and 3,000 ewes on more than 7,000 hectares. I also work with two other farming businesses running 15,000 cows.
So these are large enterprises.
Yet I’m also involved with a couple of other projects, including a dairy farm in Whangarei, near the tip of the North Island in partnership with my mum. She’s 79 years old and still runs the day-to-day tasks of managing 550 jersey cows, which produce about 1.6 million liters of milk each year. Her management also involves the upkeep of grazing pastures, where rye, clover, and plantain mixes support the herds.
Finally, I have my own small family farm: four hectares of irrigated land that we call home, and where we keep some in lamb ewes and young cattle for fattening.
Large-scale farming, medium-scale farming, and small-scale farming: I have extensive experience with them all and know the joys and challenges that come with each.
The one thing that connects them, however, is the idea of entrepreneurship.
Many people may think that the life of farmers is slow and predictable, governed only by the seasonal rhythms and dominated by habits developed over generations. Yet we’re hardly set in our ways. We’re always striving to improve—and this leads to another major assumption about what we do.
There are policymakers who seem to believe that a good way to fight climate change is to regulate agriculture so extensively that it will be difficult for us to do our work.
In New Zealand, as an island nation, we depend on trade with the wider world—and dairy farming is responsible for more than a quarter of our exports. Our pasture-based systems are diverse, produce high-quality protein with vitamins and minerals that contribute to a balanced diet and are part of the solution to sustainably feeding the world.
We need well-written policy and regulation that will continue to help us shift towards even more suitable methods of farming.
Rather than seeing farmers as a problem, public officials should see us as partners in finding sensible solutions to climate change and other environmental challenges.
We’re entrepreneurs, after all, and we’re always looking for better, more sustainable and economic ways to produce food.
Every day, we work to improve our soil, enhance our nutrient management, and reduce our greenhouse-gas emissions.
With the latest precision technology, we apply fertilizers in just the right place and just the right amount and at just the right time. We also use effluent—in other words, wastewater—to feed our pasture.
In addition, we’re expanding our no-till pasture renewal and cropping, which helps keep the soil healthy and ready to feed our plants.
We’re continually improving our cow efficiency by breeding dairy cows that emit lower levels of methane as well as cows that require fewer inputs to produce the same amount of milk.
We also conserve water through modern irrigation methods and use renewable energy for power.
We take these steps because they are good for our farms and good for the planet. We invite the non-farming public to treat us not as adversaries, but as partners in problem solving.
That’s especially true for big farms, which can suffer from bad reputations because of their size. Yet they are also among the most creative and important innovators in agriculture. They can try approaches that smaller farms can’t even begin to attempt, simply because they have more resources. One of those resources is human brainpower: When a problem presents itself, a large team working together tends to come up with more creative and better solutions than a single person who works alone.
The key to all of this is farmer-to-farmer sharing of information. Farmers, regardless of size, are stewards of the land, focused on leaving it in better condition than when they arrived. The information gained from other farmers allows us to adapt appropriate technologies, strategies, and tools to the unique challenges of our individual farming operations.
As we advance our economic and environmental interests, we’re ready to work with anyone because we’re farmers—and because we’re entrepreneurs.