By: Rebecca Howard

Synthetic alternatives and environmental and climatic changes are challenges on the horizon. (Getty)

New Zealand must pull ahead of the rest of the world in agri-food innovation in order to retain a competitive advantage, the Ministry for Primary Industry’s food and fibre innovation conference has heard.

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor was among a range of speakers at the event on Thursday and said the sector – which contributes more than $38 billion in annual exports – has to “compete with others who are catching up fast”.

It was critical research and development become “business as usual” or the sector risks being overtaken by the Irish, South Americans or Europeans, he said.

MPI director general Martyn Dunne highlighted increased competition, disruptive technologies, such as synthetic alternatives, and environmental and climatic changes as challenges on the horizon.

KPMG New Zealand’s global head of agribusiness, Ian Proudfoot, said the country was the only one in the developed world relying on agricultural food and fibre products to pay for the bulk of its expenses.

“(There is) a lot of talk about tourism now being our primary sector but the numbers I keep looking at say tourism is only a quarter of what agriculture – food, fibre, timber – bring into our economy,” he said.

“This is still the biggest game in town.”

He pointed to things like blockchain technology – a technology allowing for easy transactions and auditing – as technologies the industry should be looking to adopt.

“If you are not having the conversation about how you, how your producers, how your farmers will be part of blockchain and how you will integrate with your consumer on blockchain you are a long way behind where you need to be.”

It won’t be a “nice to have” but will be a “basic ticket to play”, he said.

He estimates most farmers will be impacted by the need to provide information into a blockchain within two years.

Other key issues include proof of authenticity and continuing to tap into the New Zealand’s international reputation for higher quality products.

Source: Newstalk ZB

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