Saturday, March 2, 2024

Next regen study off the blocks

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Massey leads seven-year project to study farming practices on NZ dairy and sheep farms.
Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor says Whenua Haumanu will scientifically build a picture that includes soil biodiversity, pasture performance, animal production and welfare, and the quality of the food produced.
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A $26 million, seven-year project led by Massey University aims to lift the hood on pastoral farming to determine the benefits or otherwise of both conventional and regenerative practices in a New Zealand farming context.

The project brings some heavy-hitting research partners in the form of AgResearch, Lincoln University and government partner the Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund, run through the Ministry of Primary Industries. Other research partners include most major industry agencies and processors such as Fonterra, DairyNZ, Agricom, AgFirst and LIC.

Under the Whenua Haumanu programme, which will kick off next year, all aspects of pastoral farming will be monitored and explored, including the quality of the final food produced.

Professor Danny Donaghy of the Massey School of Agriculture and Environment said the research programme intends to be the most comprehensive study undertaken of pastoral systems and will cover dairy, cattle and sheep. 

The project will investigate multiple aspects of regenerative farming, and a key aim is to look into the potential benefits of diverse pastures for grazing animals.

Minister for Agriculture Damien O’Connor said NZ’s economic security depends on its primary sector, which this year earned a record $53.3 billion in exports. 

“Our future competitive edge in food and fibre will depend on demonstrating our sustainability credentials to ever more discerning consumers,” O’Connor said. “The new Whenua Haumanu programme will study the whole pastoral farming system from field to fork. It will scientifically build a picture that includes soil biodiversity, pasture performance, animal production and welfare, and the quality of the food produced.”

The project is the second that includes regenerative farming in its remit  to be announced in a matter of weeks.

In early August O’Connor announced the Te Whenua Hou Te Whenua Whitiroa project in conjunction with Ngāi Tahu Farming; it will study the comparable impact of regenerative farming systems.

That $11.5m project aims to determine whether a regenerative farming system delivers a viable alternative approach to farming that improves soil health and has a lower environmental footprint. It is being run side by side on two Ngāi Tahu dairy units.

In the meantime, also in Canterbury, Align Farms has embarked on a parallel study, examining the economic and environmental impact of conventional versus regenerative dairy farming over several years.

Whenua Haumanu’s initial work will establish research farms with diverse pasture mixes, with adjoining plantings of native edible shrubs as shade and shelter. 

The main research sites are Massey University’s number one dairy unit, the Pasture and Crop Research unit for sheep grazing, and Lincoln University’s field research centre, also for sheep. 

There will also be collaboration with Dairy Trust Taranaki’s Waimate West farm, the Poukawa Research Farm, and Northland’s Dairy Development Trust’s project.

The Massey project aims to take results from the research and incorporate them into a wider range of sites across NZ, and also use them to inform international marketing efforts.

Ultimately the work aims to determine if diverse pastures and regenerative farming practices suit NZ dairy and sheep farms.

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