Distinguished Professor Caroline Saunders says the way food production systems are valued needs to be broadened.
Traditional ways of measuring the economics of farming need to be expanded to better understand the costs and benefits of regenerative agriculture practices in New Zealand, a new report says.
The report, Determining the economic and market potential of regenerative agriculture, highlights the need to improve the way environmental stewardship is valued, which would provide more balanced economic understanding of all farms in New Zealand.
One of the report’s authors, Lincoln University’s Agricultural Economics Research Unit director Distinguished Professor Caroline Saunders, says the way food production systems are valued needs to be broadened.
She says economics can help assess a wider range of value from agriculture to include its effect on society, culture and the environment.
The report says accounting for environmental impacts, both negative and positive, could provide a useful approach for fully measuring the impact of the adoption of regenerative agriculture for NZ.
The report was one of three released on Monday by the Our Land and Water National Science Challenge that provide an overview of how to assess the impact of regenerative agriculture on NZ farm businesses.
They look at how NZ agribusinesses could determine whether the adoption of regenerative agriculture practices might increase the quality or quantity of their produce, or the profitability of their business.
The second of the three reports, Quantifying productivity of regenerative farming systems, identifies priority measurements for assessing productivity on regenerative farms.
Production on NZ pastoral farms is measured as the amount of plant material grown, using tools bench-marked for typical pastures of ryegrass and clover.
However, the report says these tools may not be accurate for the multispecies pastures seen as the hallmark of ‘regenerative’ pastoral farming, due to different plant heights and traits, and uneven changes from season to season.
The impact of diverse pastures on animal production is also unknown.
The report says increased plant diversity can improve plant yields and may increase pasture production through drier periods but this does not necessarily equate to increased milk production, weight gain or improved food quality.
The report’s authors point out that other ways to view farm productivity might be more important to regenerative farmers. These include nutrient use efficiency, water use efficiency and greenhouse gas mitigation.
Policy changes may also make these increasingly important productivity measurements.
The third report, Determining food quality in the context of regenerative agriculture, explores the connection between regenerative agriculture and food quality.
Report author and Plant & Food Research principal scientist and science team leader Dr Carolyn Lister says although direct evidence is limited, there are strong suggestions from broader scientific literature that there are likely to be effects from regenerative agriculture on food ‘nutrient density’, although the extent of that remains to be determined in NZ.
Lister says a variety of nutrient profiling systems have been developed to quantify the healthiness of foods and it will be important to consider what may be best to use for regenerative agriculture.
“Numerous factors affect the nutritional quality of crops, and some factors – such as soil health and fertiliser application – may be particularly relevant to regenerative agriculture.”
The reports will be discussed at a webinar to be held on Wednesday, November 17 from 12-1pm.
Speakers will include Lister, Matt Harcombe (Silver Fern Farms), Dr Paul Dalziel (Lincoln University) and Dr Robyn Dynes (AgResearch).
For webinar registration details go here.