The cull of 22,000 cattle infected with Mycoplasma bovis is a tragedy about to unfold but the silver lining may be the opportunity it presents to our farmers.
For too long New Zealand has relied largely on dairy production. This industry is coming under progressively more market threat from the expanding home production capacity of our traditional markets and the growing global trend towards more environmentally and animal friendly plant-based eating.
The increasing public awareness of the environmental costs of farming, as well as increased transparency around farmed animal welfare issues, has had an impact on the social licence of animal farming to continue in its current state.
This Government-ordered cull presents affected farmers with a timely opportunity to start the process of moving away from the status quo monoculture approach to farming and help lead the world into a more environmentally aware food production system.
Restocking at lower densities would allow farmers to start the process of diversification through their own individualised on-farm trials.
The opportunities for growth in the plant-based markets are huge. Many innovative alternative protein manufacturers in New Zealand, such as Sunfed, Angel Food and Tonzu are undergoing rapid growth.
There is an increased demand for plant-based protein, a demand which often goes unmet by our local farmers. Plant-based milks are a massive growth market and, as the Southland oat milk trial has demonstrated, are financially viable for farmers in some regions.
Other opportunities, as yet largely untapped, are packaging and fibre markets. As we shift from single use plastic packaging towards biodegradable alternatives, opportunities for innovation in the plant based packaging arena are huge and can supply work in both the provision of raw materials and our manufacturing sector.
The demand for natural fibres for both cloth and other uses is also set to increase as we seek alternatives to plastic fibres to reduce environmental plastic microfibre contamination.
It would be impossible to not mention hemp in this contest. Hemp can be used for food, fibre, and medicine. But although hemp has lots of good properties, any monoculture venture will inevitably result in unbalanced environmental impacts.
Cropping can be used to remediate land, while remaining commercially viable. Crops can be used to crop out heavy metal contamination, balance out soil nutrients, and return organic matter to soils which have been in pasture of rye grass and white clover for decades.
Tree planting has the added benefit of carbon sinking; this can be lucrative in the short term through the sale of carbon credits but can also provide longer-term resilience through provision of tree crops, timber, organic matter, and browse.
In the face of climate disruption, tree cropping and diversification may be our best tools to build resilience into our farming systems through creation of diverse micro-environments with different resilience patterns.
The slaughter of 22,000 cattle is a tragedy, but today it represents the opportunity for New Zealand to recognise a turning point to become a world leader in farming in the age of climate disruption through entrepreneurial action by our farmers.
If we miss this opportunity, we run the risk of becoming the dinosaur of the farming world, clinging to traditional models that no longer fit the needs of our growing and changing society, or the demands of our changing planet.
• Roz Holland of Direct Animal Action is a veterinarian who is studying economics and environmental science.