Opinion: ASB rural economist Nathan Penny's open letter to James Cameron

  • Opinion
  • 21/06/2019

By Nathan Penny

Opinion: Kia ora James (Jim),

We saw you on the Sunday programme over the weekend and we were stoked to hear that you are going to make all the new Avatar movies right here in little ol' New Zealand.

What's more, we were doubly chuffed to hear that you and your wife are 'wannabe Kiwis' or 'Kiwi groupies', as you say, and that you are farming in the mighty Wairarapa.

With those things in mind, and with the help of few Wairarapa locals, we wanted to share a few tips (or secrets that only they, the locals, know).

It seems now's the right time to share, given that you are going to be living the Kiwi dream (well at least for half the year at a time anyway).

So here are some ideas for living like a Kiwi (in the Wairarapa):

The best fish 'n' chips are at Greytown Fish Supply.

The best coffee is at Don Luciano's in Masterton.

The best local crayfish and paua diving spot is down the road from you at Ngawi.

The best local pub is the Pukemanu.

When travelling with your children (and if they get car sick), avoid the Pahiatua Track, the Rimutakas and the Saddle Road if at all possible.  

And since you are local now, we may as well also let you in on some of our best-kept farming secrets:

Pasture-based New Zealand dairy production is the most carbon efficient dairy farming system in the world. In fact, you can ship a glass of New Zealand milk to the next most efficient country (Ireland) and drink it there and it still has a lower carbon footprint than an equivalent Irish glass of milk.

In addition, pasture-based New Zealand beef production is top dog in the global carbon efficiency stakes.  

Nathan Penny is senior rural economist at ASB
Nathan Penny is senior rural economist at ASB Photo credit: Supplied

You might have already heard that our agriculture produces around half of the country's carbon emissions, and while that sounds like a lot, the New Zealand agriculture sector produces enough food for around 50 million people or 10 times our population.

The question then becomes how carbon efficient New Zealand agriculture is - and that takes us back to points one and two.

We also know to take the sustainability claims of alternative food manufacturers such as Impossible Foods (meat) and Perfect Day (dairy) with a large grain of salt.

For example, New Zealand dairy has a much lower carbon footprint than Perfect Day milk on a like-for-like nutrition basis.

As you rightly pointed out on Sunday, farming is in our DNA and you also noted that New Zealand farmers have that good old number 8 wire mentality.  

But there's another secret that you may not know about Kiwi farmers. That is, they've had to farm effectively subsidy-free since the 1980s. In this context, our farmers have had to get smart and quickly, finding efficiencies that other (subsidised) farmers globally don't even know exist.

For these reasons, local Kiwi farmers think there is a place in the future for pasture-based New Zealand meat and dairy. And with global food demand set to surge around 70 percent by 2050, we think the world needs all the food it can get!  

How about we discuss how New Zealand meat and dairy can complement alternative protein production over a beer at the Pukemanu? We'll get the first round.


Nathan 'Pollyanna' Penny

Nathan Penny is senior rural economist at ASB.