Farmers urged to be more like the French

Farmers urged to be more like the French

Farmers must become foodies too. Why? Because it helps them to understand what the consumers of 2035 will want from farm produce - and will help farmers prepare for fundamental change as the country gears up for economic success over the next 20 years.

Ian Proudfoot

Global Head of Agribusiness, Partner - Audit

KPMG in New Zealand


That's one of the major findings of emerging leaders in the agri-business sector, part of a think tank organised by KPMG involving future leaders within the sector, including horticulturalists, industry groups, government ministries, wine growers, technology and R&D companies, university students, farmers, producer boards, fishing companies, banks and iwi.

They are calling for all farmers to be bound by a New Zealand certification system protecting New Zealand-branded products; they also advocate a major mindset change by farmers.

They were supported by innovation and design guru Brian Richards, who says farmers' own dietary habits have to change.

"Take the typical French farmer - he's got a few things our farmers don't have. He's got a nose for his wine and a palate for his cheese," says Richards. "His idea of winning the prize at the end of the season is for flavour and taste, not volume.

"But if you walk around Mystery Creek [at New Zealand Field Days], you'll see 120,000 farmers largely eating junk food for four days. If you go into the boardroom of most of our agricultural companies, you'll be served a terrible doorstep sandwich."Richards and the emerging leaders are certain that New Zealand's primary produce sector will succeed only if it:

  • is able to identify and serve the needs of consumers 20 years from now
  • establishes a defined New Zealand brand to cover all primary produce, making a promise of quality and health to consumers - accompanied by provenance stories underlining the promise
  • buys into a national certification system authenticating the promise

Richards says a French-like appreciation for produce behind the farm gate would help New Zealand sell its all-important provenance stories.

"If we could turn our famers into foodies, we'd transform the entire industry. We have this amazing gene pool all around us in New Zealand and we can tell stories that are really unique. The world is waiting for us to knock on their door.

"KPMG's Agribusiness Agenda 2015, the second volume of which has just been released, encapsulates the feedback from the emerging leaders, according to Julia Jones, of KPMG's Farm Enterprise practice, author of the Agenda along with Justine Fitzmaurice of KPMG's Advisory team.

"They believe we will need to certify our farmers to meet 2035 customer demand - for verification of environmental standards, product quality, animal welfare and sustainable business practices," says Jones. "They feel there is no longer any room for the lowest common denominator in farming."

By 2035, New Zealand would have a more defined single brand. Certification would bring a level of protection "right across the farming disciplines as NZ Inc."

"Expectations will be consistently high, whether it is kiwifruit or a lamb rack. However, all agreed that if farmers do not start preparing today, they risk producing something no one will process...ultimately, those who do not have certification will be pushed out of the market," she says.

Changing the mindset of farmers who feel they are farming 'the way their family always has and always will', will take "some hard conversations and maybe even a bit of tough love," Jones says.

"So the farmer will need to be connected to the consumer to help them understand that, although they may have farmed a certain way for generations, the needs of the consumer have significantly changed in that time."

Some may even be forced out of the industry, the young leaders say, although the flip side was that farming would gain more credibility and attractiveness as a profession. Other main recommendations included:

  • Healing the town-country breach and lack of understanding
  • Preparing farmers for sustainability measures so consumers perceive they are getting not only 'clean' food but also feel the planet is being saved in the process
  • Many farmers were being dragged into that space 'kicking and screaming' and did not accept this was the way forward
  • Using more scientific research and data to achieve and illustrate consistent levels of excellence environmentally and economically
  • Science-based farming would require a new generation of farmers with genuine business acumen and strategic insights

The critical need for change has recently gained additional impetus according to Ian Proudfoot, KPMG's Global Head of Agribusiness" "The recent Beyond the Line of Sight: Farming & the Future of Food symposium saw futurists challenge our basic perceptions of farming; it brought home to many what has made us successful to date will not be enough in future.

"Whether it is cultured beef having the potential to replace naturally produced products within 30 years, vertical farms embedded in city skyscrapers or the advent of plant-based eggs, our farmers need to be looking for and responding to disruptive change."

To see presentations from the symposium, click here

Orginally published in the NZ Herald.

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