RNZ - Oxford research director calls for NZ farming sustainability

Written by Alexa Cook

New Zealand agriculture needs to become more sustainable to catch up with its clean, green, unspoiled image overseas, the head of a UK research centre says.

Charles Godfray at Oxford University is a population biologist and director of its Future of Food programme, at the Oxford Martin School.

He's recently been in New Zealand for the bio-protection research centre symposium and said this country's food production system was impressively efficient, sophisticated, and agile.

Sir Charles, who has family farming connections in New Zealand, said he appreciated the farming systems here but - being based in the UK - had the benefit of looking in from the outside.

"New Zealand agriculture has a tremendous reputation as producing very high quality products, and I think there's a general feeling that it's produced from a pristine and wonderful environment."

He said there was room for improvement, however.

"On issues around sustainability there are some where New Zealand has greater challenges."

In particular, nitrogen run-off was especially high, he said.

"Looking ahead in meeting those challenges of feeding a global population of 10 billion, but doing it sustainably, then New Zealand has some challenges to address there."

This was important if New Zealand wanted to be true to its clean green branding, Sir Charles said.

But, in many ways New Zealand could build on this impression, he said.

"In order to do so it will have to increase sustainability.

"In some ways the reality of the sustainability of New Zealand agricultural land almost has to catch up with perception, at least abroad."