The Ministry for Primary Industries is backing a project to help more New Zealand sheep and beef farmers capture the premium US market.
MPI has committed $142,480 over two years through its Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund towards a $356,200 project with Lean Meats Limited (trading as Atkins Ranch).
It aims to scale up the number of verified lamb producers that meet the regenerative certification requirements of the Savory Institute’s Land to Market Programme in the United States.
New Zealand-owned company Atkins Ranch has been a partner of the Land to Market Programme since 2019.
It sells premium grass-fed lamb into the US market and has supply contracts across five regions of New Zealand.
The company has been piloting regenerative farming practices since 2019 with a core group of 23 farmers, and this is now expanding to more than 70 farms.
“I see regenerative agriculture as leaving the land in a better state for future generations,” Atkins Ranch chief executive Pat Maher said.
“That includes improving soil health, minimising tillage, and encouraging biodiversity rather than monocultures.
“Land to Market is the world’s first verified outcomes-based regenerative certification. It requires partners to undertake a range of measures annually, which cover soil health, biodiversity, water infiltration and ground cover.
“Atkins Ranch was one of the first companies in the world to join the Savory programme. Part of the reason the programme piqued my interest is that I believe we already have a competitive advantage over other countries due to the way we farm in New Zealand. By showing that we meet internationally recognised regenerative agriculture standards we’re able to access high-value markets overseas.”
Lifelong farmer Stuart Ellingham was one of the first farmers to sign up to the pilot.
He is managing director of Horizon Farming, which comprises eight farms on 10,000ha in Hawke’s Bay, and has a degree in agricultural commerce from Lincoln University.
“I was sceptical at first,” Ellingham said.
“However, I saw it as an opportunity to put the microscope on New Zealand to see how we stack up under the Savory Institute’s measurement systems.
“With conventional farming practices in New Zealand I believe most farmers are undertaking continuous improvement anyway. To meet Savory’s regenerative certification requirements we just needed to tweak a few things, such as not undertaking full tillage cultivation, and being more aware of the soil.”
MPI’s director of investment programmes, Steve Penno, said the project is a good fit with the goals of the government and food and fibre sector’s Fit for a Better World roadmap, which aims to improve productivity and reduce the impacts of food production on the environment.
“Consumers are increasingly willing to pay a premium for meat produced regeneratively, and sustainability is taking a front seat more and more in the way we produce food,” Penno said.
“This project will help open up a new opportunity for more of our farmers to demonstrate the good work they’re doing – and with a few tweaks they can be rewarded for it.”