Perspectives: AGMARDT’s Lee-Ann Marsh on taking action for the collective good

General manager of food and fibres sector funder AGMARDT Lee-Ann Marsh brought a career in global marketing, consumer insight and innovation to the table when she took the helm of the organisation in August. Here she shares insights from initial conversations with industry leaders.

Lee-Ann Marsh

Ngā mihi o te tau hou ki a koutou katoa.

In my first few months as AGMARDT’s new general manager (spent locked down in Auckland while trying to keep home chaos to a minimum) I spoke with a wide range of sector participants and leaders to get a feel for the issues and opportunities they’re seeing. Here are my thoughts, based on the korero and my own thinking and experience.

Globally focussed

A need to be globally focused is critical. What I’ve heard and experienced is that some farmers don’t have a full appreciation of the global consumer demands fuelling the pace of change (including regulation). Anecdotally, those that do are much more open to change.

For some, it’s about a mindset shift from farming as a lifestyle to farming as part of a global export industry; these are not mutually exclusive. Industry should be continually communicating the expectations and opportunities from market back to farm to make it exciting and real.


Water is not being widely discussed. Water is not just about quality, but usage, storage, and conservation, all so critical to sustainable food production.

Consumers are looking to reduce their water consumption and globally companies are acting on this. For example, Unilever is helping people use less water through innovations such as quick-rinse conditioners, spray-on clothes fresheners and smarter irrigation solutions. What are the equivalent solutions for New Zealand agriculture?

One project that AGMARDT is proud to support is Croptide, an agtech solution that aims to give growers the information required to give plants exactly the water they need.

As an industry we need to be thinking more critically and collaboratively about water to be resilient in the face of changing consumer expectations, not to mention weather patterns.

GMO vs Gene editing

Innovation in genetic technologies is another hot topic. I’m not talking about genetic modification (GM), but gene editing which can achieve the same results as traditional breeding but more precisely and rapidly.

The United Kingdom is currently revising how it governs use of genetic technologies.

While this field has been controversial, when benefits such as animal welfare and environmental gains start to outweigh risk, I believe there will be less consumer concern and greater demand for these solutions.

We need to engage meaningfully in conversation and make decisions on this technology rather than continuing with a ‘do nothing’ approach.

Regenerative agriculture

Consumers are wanting to reduce their environmental footprint and food businesses are seeking the same outcomes across their supply chains – regenerative agriculture (RA) is a shortcut to that.

Lee-Ann Marsh

In simple terms, RA is about demonstrable, continuous environmental improvement across soil, water, biodiversity, and carbon.

A recent Beef + Lamb NZ  and New Zealand Winegrowers report shows a clear market opportunity with New Zealand well positioned to take a leadership role. It’s great to see companies exploring and developing programmes to meet market needs and attract stronger premiums such as T&G, Zespri and Silver Fern Farms.

We need to encourage and support farmers and growers who see opportunity and alignment with their businesses to join the RA journey. For others thinking about how to adapt their systems to capitalise on consumer trends, areas like decarbonisation are key even if the regen label is not adopted.

Working for the ‘collective good’ 

In a somewhat siloed industry, I’ve heard examples of groups coming together, then going away to fight for their own piece of the pie, making it difficult to take a holistic, long-term approach to the challenges and opportunities our sector is facing.

We need a new mindset that transcends sub-sectors and enables us to explore new ways of working for the collective good of the sector.

A good example is He Waka Eke Noa, the primary sector partnership working with farmers and growers to reduce Aotearoa’s emissions and build resilience to climate change.

Another, that AGMARDT is funding is Taiao Ora, a pioneering programme for the food and fibres sector based on genuine partnership between Māori and Pākehā, shared values and the wellbeing of nature.

In addition, there’s a need to build capability and leadership through a joined-up approach and to support the unique opportunities within Māori agribusiness. Both topics are high on AGMARDT’s agenda.

Ultimately AGMARDT is here to ignite a better future for food and fibres in Aotearoa, so I encourage you to visit our website to learn more about how we support and fund innovators and leaders. Wishing you all a fantastic start to 2022.

I orea te tuatara ka puta ki waho | A problem is solved by continuing to find solutions

9th February 2022 By Contributor | [email protected] | @foodtickernz