Sustainability is very much a 'buzzword' but what does it actually mean for farmers and in particular the red meat sector?

The Country's Jamie Mackay played Devil's advocate and challenged Rabobank animal proteins analyst Blake Holgate to convince him that investments in sustainability benefit New Zealand's sheep and beef farmers.

Holgate disagrees that sustainability is more of a dairy industry issue, saying it is just as critical for red meat.

"I think the challenges facing the sector are different but equally as important," argues Holgate who says a recent report from Rabobank highlights issues for sheep and beef farmers such as freshwater quality and keeping stock out of waterways.

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Mackay argues that there are currently no national requirements for sheep to be excluded from waterways. Holgate agrees but says fencing cattle is still an expense for sheep and beef farmers.

Perhaps the most pressing issue for the dairy industry is nutrient limits and Mackay wonders if this will curb intensification for sheep and beef farmers as well.

"The rules that are put in place potentially do restrict what ... sheep and beef farmers can do on their property," says Holgate, "so if a rule is put in place at a regional level that means a drystock farmer can't increase their nitrogen leeching limit, that has implications not just around intensification but potential changes in farming systems."

Also in today's interview: Blake Holgate discusses native vegetation on sheep and beef farms and how greenhouse gas emissions affect the red meat sector.