COMMENT:

New Zealand's economic prosperity was literally built off the sheep's back.

That all changed half a century ago when the large-scale adoption of synthetic clothing and carpets surprised our agri-business leaders and decimated NZ's large-scale sheep industry.

But once again sheep look like our best bet for driving economic growth and environmental improvements in our agri-business.

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Let's jump ahead to the future. Due to global environmental issues, a group of intelligent, well-capitalised, "planetary concerned" individuals are developing solutions to help human existence remain part of our planet's future. Millennials, in particular, are open to different options to maintain existing lifestyles.

The traditional beef industry is being disrupted. Within five years "ground beef" will have a plant-based alternative that will be better for the environment. That's a fact.

Secondary benefits include the fact it costs less than the flesh of a cow to produce, involves no chance of animal cruelty, uses little water and tastes fine when covered with special sauce, lettuce, cheese, onions and a sesame seed bun.

Let's now assume the best scientists and entrepreneurs in the world can't nail the authentic replication of animal muscle meat. Surely that means we have a market for premium beef? We do, but most of a cow's carcass is not premium.

Now enter the sheep.

New Zealand has a reputation for being good producers of niche meats such as lamb and venison. The plant protein/cellular meat companies are not looking at sheep meat - it's too small a market for them.

We have a premium angle with high-end restaurants globally to showcase quality lamb. And we have a growing middle class market for hot pot in Asia that can use up the 80 per cent of the carcass that is not a premium cut.

And merino wool has put us in a very good position around sustainability and functionality.

With the demise of plastic gaining momentum, medium micron wool is about to join fine wool and become profitable again. Oh, and one more thing, sheep milk is one of the most premium, nutritious and tasty milks available.

The majority of people who have issues digesting cows' milk can easily digest sheep milk.

Dairy sheep are also part of the solution for New Zealand's current over-population of dairy cows. They provide a niche for super premium meat that can be served in the world's finest restaurants.

Now let's authentically convert from the volume production mindset to the value mindset and bring back sheep to be a part of what makes New Zealand a country that is better for the world.

Scottie Chapman is a founder and CEO of Spring Sheep Milk Co, a joint venture between SLC and Pamu (Landcorp).