The Ministry for Primary Industries will not regulate or prescribe regenerative farm practices to farmers, but will continue to do research to find the regenerative principles that work on New Zealand farms.
So says MPI’s chief science adviser, John Roche.
He said the MPI has moved away from the term “regenerative agriculture” but favours the concept of regenerating NZ.
When the MPI launched its Fit For a Better World plan in 2020, the idea of having a regenerative mindset stood out to the task force involved in its founding, Roche said.
However, “whatever regenerative agriculture was to everybody else, we needed to decide what it was for us”.
It was clear that farmers and growers around the country did not want a specific definition, because a definition would prescribe how they needed to farm, he said.
“That wasn’t useful to them. What they did want was a vision and one of the reasons for latching on to regenerative agriculture was because it was an outcome-based philosophy. They were able to define what they wanted to achieve,” he said.
“We’ve seen growing interest from farmers about regenerative practices, wanting to know how they might be able to incorporate it into their own farming systems.”
There are social movements that believe food production systems are unsustainable.
Extremists in that movement believe you can either have a healthy planet or you can have animal agriculture, but you can’t have both, he said.
Regenerative agriculture offers a compromise, he said.
Consumers want a balance between economic growth and environmental sustainability and regenerative agriculture offers this, Roche said.
Roche said there is a commercial opportunity for farmers in “modern regenerative foods”.
“These foods are natural. They’ve got a low environmental footprint. They’ve got good nutrition and taste great. They’ve got strong animal welfare credentials, they capture carbon in the soil. They’re good for biodiversity. These are the things that we can be defined by in our food production methods.”
Director of investment programmes at the MPI Steve Penno said practices touted as regenerative need to be studied in NZ conditions to scientifically assess how they work in local soils and climates.
“We can all see that we’re in a changing climate. Our markets are changing as well. [There’s] increasing interest from consumers about how their food is produced, as well as its quality. We need to keep adding … tools to our toolkit to help us respond to those changes,” Penno said.
“In the projects we’ve funded we’re seeking to reinforce the importance of scientists, industry and farmers working together. That’s where we’re going to get benefits out of providing good information that sums up sound scientific bases,” Penno said.
The MPI focuses on comparative studies, comparing plots, paddocks and farms using different practices, he said.
“We don’t want to end up with a great set of published scientific papers. The outcome that we’re seeking is to make sure that it’s practical and useful information that people can adopt,” Penno said.
Roche said: “Our vision speaks to practices that will lead to environmental outcomes that we all want for New Zealand but at the same time recognising that if people are willing to pay more for what our farmers are doing then we should take advantage of that.
“The choice is with the farmer and growers, rather than those of us that think we know things telling them what they should do,” Roche said.
Penno said there are a number of NZ companies earning premiums through exports of products with regenerative credentials.
Just as the MPI will not regulate or prescribe regenerative practices, it will not regulate or accredit such products.
But companies that sell those products will create transparency of farm practices by working with regional councils or by assessing farm plans, he said.