The 7-year research programme will compare side-by-side dairy farms in Canterbury to assess the environmental impacts of their practices. One 286-hectare farm will use regenerative farming practices while the adjacent 330-hectare farm will use conventional methods.
As part of its wider agreement with MPI and Ngāi Tūāhuriri, Ngāi Tahu Farming will contract AgResearch, DairyNZ, Manaaki Whenua, The Agribusiness Group and Soil Connection as providers for the whole-farm trial.
The research providers will seek to verify the regenerative farming practices with scientific metrics of all aspects of farming, including the impacts of regenerative agriculture practices on farm workers.
During the project, researchers from Manaaki Whenua will be looking at water-use efficiency, measuring root zone nitrate leaching, changes in soil carbon and nitrogen stocks, and nitrous oxide and methane emissions.
“We need to answer questions around the following: do regenerative practices reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, do they reduce irrigation needs and do they reduce nutrient losses and groundwater pollution,” says Manaaki Whenua project lead Dr Johannes Laubach. Manaaki Whenua will also be researching plant species composition over time.
DairyNZ will monitor farm workers through a range of metrics including worker wellbeing, engagement, sleep and fatigue, and task diversity and productivity. The organisation will also monitor farm management and analyse pasture and animal productivity, and economic performance. With DairyNZ’s models, greenhouse gas emissions and nitrate leaching at farm scale will be estimated.
AgResearch will provide benchmarking and evaluation of the different farming approaches, across areas such as soil health, animal health and the quality of meat and milk produced.
The AgriBusiness Group will assess assurance standards and consumer trends, and Soil Connection will provide regenerative systems advice for the study.
Ngāi Tahu Holdings Chief Executive Craig Ellison says alternative farming systems have not been researched at this scale or depth in New Zealand before.
“The pressures on Aotearoa New Zealand’s pastoral farmers are mounting and being part of the solution is the only way to progress into the future,” says Craig.
Ngāi Tahu Farming General Manager Will Burrett says the proposed 2025 greenhouse gas emission charges, freshwater farm plans, community expectations and international consumer preferences are all challenging conventional farming systems.
“Supporting farmers with quality insights of an alternative system and the impact it can have on total farm performance is vital to help define change,” says Will.
The first field measurements for the trial begin in July 2023.