Friday, April 12, 2024

Diversity’s a winner from the ground up

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We need a deep rethink of how we use space, says Future Farmers member Findal Proebst.
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By Findal Proebst. Proebst grew up on a diverse biodynamic farm near Motueka and works as a soil health consultant in Christchurch.

We don’t plan landscapes well, yet.

The future of our food supply and society depends on a deep rethink of how we use space, for everything from housing and conveniences to farmland and recreation.

Multifunctional landscapes, by definition, can meet many complementary outcomes, using less area than individual separate land uses would. They do require more planning as they are more complex, but this is far outweighed by the increased utility gained and decreased land area required.

For example, the strategic allocation of land to diverse farming and conservation based on its suitability for that land use. Our farmers understand that how well a landscape is planned, and its resources managed, determines the health and impact of the ecosystem services it can provide to our society. Therefore, the creation of well-managed and diverse agricultural landscapes can meet multiple landscape services, while also producing food and fibre in a profitable way.

As a diverse collective, Future Farmers agrees that designing ecologically and practically diverse farmscapes has the potential to strengthen New Zealand’s entire farming system. Ecological diversity meaning the diverse presence and abundance of native and endemic species within agricultural landscapes, but also the diversity of productive outputs.

The agricultural sector is a critical player in achieving regional and national conservation goals and it is clear that our native flora and fauna can play a much larger role in our farming landscapes. 

Agricultural land currently makes up 60% of NZ’s total land use, yet we are just now starting to develop a national strategy for managing and restoring biodiversity on farms.

Nor are there current regulations or consistent mechanisms for measuring and improving biodiversity outcomes despite farmland, particularly pastoral landscapes, being a significant habitat for NZ endemic species.

Native species can be fully integrated into the active farm system itself as medicinal, shelter and grazed species. Similarly, the exotic species we grow, harvest and farm can be diversified. For example, at the farm scale, increasing the diversity of plant species growing together supports healthy and diverse soil life.

By creating farm systems that have both high native biodiversity and crop diversity, there is greater ecological resilience in times of climatic stress such as fires and floods. 

Beneficial invertebrates and insects attracted by these habitats also provide protection from fungal, bacterial and pest insect attack on fragile crops, potentially reducing reliance on chemical intervention. 

Diversification can provide farmers with additional economic security as they have a variety of cash income streams.

The why has been explored, so what about the how? 

The more simple a system, the more fragile. While it is important to balance the trade-off between diversity and efficiency, we can diversify our landscapes to ensure NZ’s food and fibre systems are fit for a more challenging and changeable future. 

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