Emeritus Prof Frank Griffin sees alternative foods as a "wake up'' call for conventional farming.

Prof Griffin has spent a career in animal health research and also has a strong interest in New Zealand's food production systems.

Speaking at the Otago Ballance Farm Environment Awards field day at the Wallace family's property in South Otago on Friday, he said alternative foods were an opportunity if handled the right way.

There were big issues in farming and the sector was dealing with a new set of challenges ``that didn't exist for our grandparents''.

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When it came to the future, traditional farming could not be driven any further and the sector had to start reconsidering the way it did things - not necessarily getting bigger, but rather, perhaps getting smaller.

Sustainability, biodiversity and greenhouse gas mitigation were all achievable goals for New Zealand farmers, and alternative production systems and new technologies could get them there.

When it came to synthetic foods, Prof Griffin said farmers should not be afraid of the threat they posed.

Food processing and modification had always been a very big business; food had always been open for manipulation.

Millennials were the future food consumer market and they were comfortable with plant-based foods.

But those alternative foods, which were always going to be commodities, should provide the incentive to transition from traditional farming practices.

They could never penetrate the high-value food experience or ``tell nature's story''. They would provide a vehicle for sustainable land use and biodiversity and conventional farmers would provide most of the crops to create the alternative foods.

New Zealand farmers had to get the right value for their quality food, which they had not traditionally been getting.

``If we get it right, we can beat them every time because we've got a story and a very special place this food comes from,'' Prof Griffin said.

It had to be authentic; they must be able to show that the food came from a sustainable system that conserved land, water and plant and animal genetic resources and was environmentally non-degrading, technically appropriate, economically viable and socially acceptable.