New Zealand Ag Needs Innovation To Stay Open For Business

Published: Mon 15 Apr 2024 04:55 PM
The agricultural sector is facing a crisis, with forecasts for registering innovative animal and crop health products hitting an all-time low. A decade ago, we were world leaders in pioneering innovation. Now forecasts say it will take five to nine years to bring a new product to market.
With a backlog of new product applications and less than 25 percent meeting statutory timeframes, the country is losing its competitive edge in a global market during an economic downturn. The consequences are far-reaching, affecting our ability to reform, adapt to climate change, increase productivity, meet market expectations, and respond to emerging biosecurity threats.
New Zealand farmers and growers are pioneering and want to embrace innovation, but our country’s regulatory system is falling behind. The painful truth is that these innovative solutions are available in other countries, but many are not yet being registered in New Zealand.
Manufacturers of innovative products are saying they have lost trust and confidence in a system which many have been using for decades. Products already approved and being used overseas face significant challenges and delays to register here. With new products taking up to five years to register, with a 100 day statutory target, and minor product changes taking more than year, with a 10 day target, New Zealand’s market is simply too small for delays of this magnitude, so they will invest and supply elsewhere.
The regulator in charge of assessing the environmental risks for new products, the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA), differs slightly from its global counterparts. The Ministry for Primary Industries, and sometimes WorkSafe NZ, also provides some assessment functions.
The EPA has challenges in processing new product applications, resulting in a backlog. Less than 25% of applications meet statutory timeframes, compared with 97.8% a decade ago, despite increases in funding.
According to the recent Sapere briefing to the Minister for the Environment on the EPA’s role and performance in assessing hazardous substances, clearing the current backlog will take between two to four years. Since the EPA is legally required to receive new applications, stopping them is not an option.
A focus on reassessing existing substances exacerbates the situation. The EPA is allocating four times more resourcing to reassessing products than to introducing new, environmentally-friendly chemistry into New Zealand. The number of planned reassessments has increased significantly this year. This imbalance significantly impacts sectors within New Zealand's primary industries, including horticulture, arable farming, and forestry.
The graph below shows the current pinch points in the cycle.
Periodically reassessing existing chemistries is good practice, but it is crucial to make newer options available to replace, or reduce reliance, on existing options.
Recent examples of reassessments include hydrogen cyanamide in the kiwifruit industry and synthetic pyrethroids in the horticulture and arable industry, with few alternatives available.
If existing products are removed from the market, or trade markets change the residue allowances for certain products, farmers and growers only have existing options to manage pests and diseases. Over reliance increases the risk of resistance. Options give us flexibility.
The regulatory system is strained by inconsistent risk models, a labour-intensive processing system, and decisions inadequately considering the environmental benefits of newer chemistries. A balanced risk assessment considers proportionality as well as severity and probability.
What is at stake?
The animal health and crop protection industries had a value of $24 billion to New Zealand. A 2019 NZIER report explains that New Zealand’s economy would lose up to $11.4 billion without crop protection products – and that crop production would decrease by 30 percent. This figure is much higher now. If the manufacturers of crop protection solutions choose not to register products here, New Zealand has far more to lose than they do, as revenue from sales equates to less than one percent of GDP.
According to a 2021 KPMG report, the animal health industry contributes $12.68 billion in economic value to New Zealand.
The innovations that our members can offer include biologicals, inhibitors, solutions with improved usage and residue profiles, and more selectively targeted pest management solutions.
Biologicals use living organisms to control pest populations, including natural predators, parasites, pathogens, or competitors.
Inhibitors used with fertilisers slow down the process of nitrogen conversion in the soil and the release of nitrous oxide into the atmosphere.
Softer chemistry and biology enable an improved usage profile for our key export produce alongside lower residue profiles.
More selectively targeted pest management solutions that will be game-changing in protecting our precious biodiversity are not yet available.
Accessing overseas innovation for small scale testing is also very challenging. Ten years ago, we were world leading in this research and development, using a science-based evidence and proportionate risk framework that considered severity, probability and benefits.
Animal and Plant Health New Zealand and its members are charting a path forward by offering constructive solutions to government and key stakeholders, drawing from international insights and ideas.
Solutions involve simplifying regulation and enhancing balanced risk assessments. This includes exploring risk models used by other trusted regulators that can process information in minutes instead of hours. This frees up valuable technical expertise from crunching numbers to informing decisions.
Other solutions include streamlining approval processes and aligning with initiatives in human health that prioritise recognising decisions by larger, trusted international regulators. Capability and leadership to wield regulatory amendments to their fullest intent and extent are also crucial.
The agricultural sector is critical to our future, but we are a small market, with high investment costs to bring products to our shores. Other OECD countries are using safer, more effective, and less hazardous chemistry, bio products and other technology. We must avoid getting stuck in a bubble that could burst as the world around us moves on.
Without these reforms and leadership, we risk falling further behind in agricultural innovation, jeopardising export opportunities and sustainable practices. We need to shift the dial swiftly to create an environment conducive to innovation. The stakes are high, and the time to act is now.
Authored by Liz Shackleton. Liz Shackleton is chief executive of Animal and Plant Health NZ, the industry association for companies which manufacture and distribute crop protection and animal health products.

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