Regenerative agriculture in New Zealand
Farmers are under political and societal pressure to change their farming systems to reduce their agricultural environmental impacts and improve ethical standards to meet increased consumer concerns about health, food safety, and animal welfare. Their problem is how to make changes to do this while sustaining production, profitability and wellbeing.
Regenerative agriculture has been proposed as a solution not only for transformation on-farm but as a driver of transformation for the global food system, addressing issues as big as climate change, food security or even social and financial inequalities.
Regenerative agriculture is a biodiversity-driven management system. It seeks to promote ecological synergies between components of the agroecosystem from the ground up, by:
- building soil health
- increasing plant and animal nutritive quality
- reducing stresses on stock animals
- reducing dependence on agricultural chemicals.
Regenerative agriculture is farmer-led, highly adaptive and context-specific. Practitioners rely on peer-to-peer learning and intensive farmer observation to continuously adapt and optimise farming practices.
While there is ample anecdotal evidence that regenerative agriculture delivers multiple environmental, economic and social benefits, little research has been conducted to show if / how it delivers these multiple claimed benefits in New Zealand.
Our research is currently at the pilot stage. To date, we have teamed up with farmers and regenerative practitioners to study the following areas:
- To assemble a suite of indicators for ecosystem functions with a focus on:
- Soil carbon and nitrogen stocks
- Soil fertility
- Pasture health
- Animal welfare
- Farm economic performance and viability.
- To test whether these indicators differ in regenerative farms versus neighboring farms.
- To test whether some of the above indicators could be used as proxies of “ecosystem health” (i.e. to determine whether the agroecosystem as a whole is trending towards regeneration or degeneration).
- To test suitable experimental design, both from the perspective of scientific rigor, and from of the perspective of relevance and social impact.
Lead: Gwen Grelet
Manaaki Whenua collaborators: Kate Orwin, Nina Koele, Paul Mudge, Rowan Buxton, Chris Morse, Hamish Maule, Bryan Stevenson, Jo Cavanagh, Carina Davies, Karen Boot, Simon Fowler.
Students: Clara Olhaitz and René Deverish.
External collaborators: Quorum Sense (Sam Lang), BakerAg (Chris Garland), Plant & Food Research (Mike Beare and Robyn White), AgResearch (Nicole Schon, Lee Aalders, Nigel Bell).
Funding: MBIE-SSIF, MPI.
We are also leading two other projects on regenerative agriculture:
- A nationwide initiative to assemble a framework that can be used to develop a scientific evidence base and research questions specific to Regenerative Agriculture – that is relevant to academia, government, farmers and industry.
- Within a trans-Tasman project funded by the Soil CRC. Project 4.1.004 Regenarative Farming Systems takes a co-innovation approach, including researchers, farmers and extension practitioners to develop a pilot research programme seeking to quantify the effectiveness of regenerative farming systems for improving soil performance across defined soil and climate constraints in Australia.