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Future Landscapes

Land Use Opportunities

Whitiwhiti Ora

Developing a holistic decision-making framework for evaluating land use opportunities.

Land Use Opportunities: Whitwhiti Ora - vision sketch by Yasmine El Orfi


Challenge funding: $9,000,000

Research duration: May 2020 – June 2023

What Are We Doing?

Land Use Opportunities: Whitiwhiti Ora will help land stewards assess diverse land use opportunities and make decisions with confidence that both the whenua and its people will prosper.

To become better land stewards, we need to bring the right information together so we can make smarter decisions about our land use. To improve the vitality of te Taiao, we will embrace ancestral knowledge about listening to the land, and integrate this knowledge with technology and science.

Some excellent knowledge, data and tools are available to help make decisions about land use, but there are also some big gaps. Our research will bring together biophysical, cultural, social and economic information to help fill some of these gaps.

The vision for this research is to identify a much greater range of suitable land opportunities and a greater diversity of benefits for New Zealand.

ILLUSTRATION: Land Use Opportunities: Whitiwhiti Ora draft vision. Sketch by Yasmine El Orfi

How Can The Research Be Used?

  • Researchers will identify and analyse a much greater range of food and fibre than we currently grow. This research is needed because some land use change in New Zealand will be necessary to respond to our changing climate and policy.
  • The aim of this research is to help land stewards prioritise the most suitable crop options for their land, by providing a holistic understanding of the benefits and consequences of the options.
  • The programme will identify the pressures faced by land, water and people: contaminants (nitrogen, phosphorus, e.coli, sediment), greenhouse gas emissions, adapting to a changing climate.
  • The programme will give the fullest possible picture of the benefits of diverse land options, by using a broader range of indicators and data sources than has been used by Western science previously. Research will include standard indicators, such as economic returns, soil type, climate and topology, and integrate broader measures of wellbeing. These may include: biodiversity, recreation (swimming, fishing), mahinga kai, resilience to change, health benefits, surrounding communities (eg schools), intergenerational benefits.
  • The research will develop a data “engine room” that would connect into a range of external interfaces, including the interface co-developed in Pohewa Pae Tawhiti.
  • This research builds on the work completed by the Land Use Suitability programme.

In the Media

Summit discusses kaitiakitanga over profit in Māori land uses

Te Ao Māori, 22 June 2022

“Harcourt and Shaun Awatere developed a Māori land use tool with land trusts and incorporations, which she said helped them to make decisions about alternative land use and opportunities that delivered on their aspirations.”

Mapping surface erosion on a national scale

Farmers Weekly, 7 December 2021

“Working together, we can use the farm management scenarios to estimate the change in soil losses when each paddock is grazed at a specific density by a particular stock type. This goes beyond understanding the land and towards an understanding that includes the interaction between animal grazing intensity, physics and the land’s susceptibility.”

Farming for our Future

NZ Geographic, Mar-Apr 2018

The question of how best to use our land is one of the most important of all. If we treat it right, it will return the favour. If we abuse it, it will sicken and fail. And with it, businesses, communities, economies and ecosystems.


Community Involvement

  • The research team will work with case study partners that represent specific catchments and regions. Relationships are being built with Te Arawa land entities, groups in the Wairoa catchment in the Hawke's Bay, and a catchment dominated by dairy in the South Island.
  • This research programme will partner with agencies that already have farmer-facing decision-support tools (including risk assessment tools used by the banking sector) so that the information provided from this research has a conduit to a wider audience.

Team Snapshot

Research Outputs


Modelling soil loss from surface erosion at high-resolution to better understand sources and drivers across land uses and catchments; a national-scale assessment of Aotearoa, New Zealand

Mitchell Donovan
Environmental Modelling & Software, January 2022

Soil erosion is a significant challenge for agricultural regions, with cascading impacts to waterways, land productivity, soil carbon, and ecological health. We provide the first national-scale soil erosion model that incorporates the impacts of grazing on ground cover and soil erodibility into the RUSLE framework. Surface erosion rates for winter-forage paddocks were substantially higher than pastoral grasslands, woody grasslands, forests and natural soil production rates. Validation with empirical measurements from sediment traps, sediment cores, and chemical fingerprinting demonstrated strong linear regressions. Terrain impacted soil erosion directly through slope steepness and flow convergence and indirectly through strong orographic effects on rainfall erosivity. Annual surface erosion across Aotearoa New Zealand could reach 16.5-29.2 Mt y−1, representing ∼$20M annually and up to 24–31% of sediment yield for two catchments.

Projected Wine Grape Cultivar Shifts Due to Climate Change in New Zealand

Anne-Gaelle E. Ausseil, Richard M. Law, Amber K. Parker, Edmar I. Teixeira and Abha Sood
Frontiers in Plant Science, April 2021

Climate change has already been affecting the regional suitability of grapevines. This has significant implications for New Zealand. We modeled key crop phenological stages to better understand temporal and spatial shifts in three important regions of New Zealand (Marlborough, Hawke's Bay, Central Otago) for three dominant cultivars (Merlot, Pinot noir, and Sauvignon blanc) and one potential new and later ripening cultivar (Grenache). Simulations show an overall advance in flowering, véraison, and sugar ripeness by mid-century with more pronounced advance by the end of the century. Cross-regional analysis raises the likelihood of the different regional cultivars ripening within a smaller window of time, complicating harvesting schedules across the country. For growers to maintain the same timing of key phenological stages would require shifting planting of cultivars to more Southern parts of the country or implement adaptation strategies. Late ripening cultivars or extended ripening window in cooler regions may be advantageous in the face of climate change.

Developing an indicator of productive potential to assess land use suitability in New Zealand

S.Harris, R.W.McDowell, L.Lilburne, S.Laurenson, L.Dowling, JingGuo, P.Pletnyakov, M.Beare, D.Palmer
Environmental and Sustainability Indicators, September 2021

The Land Use Suitability (LUS) concept is composed of three indicators describing the inherent productive and economic potential of land parcels (productive potential), the contribution of a land parcel to lose contaminants relative to other land parcels (relative contribution), and the load of contaminants lost compared to the load that ensures that environmental objectives are met (pressure). This paper outlines an improved indicator of productive potential (PP). We outline the four layers of information that comprise PP for a land parcel: (1) Feasibility; (2) Yield; (3) Economic returns; and (4) Economic Importance. These layers can be combined into a single PP indicator of the value of the land for economic use. When combined with the Relative Contribution and Pressure indicators in the LUS system, it allows for identification of areas which are most suitable for intensification by providing for a direct comparison of the economic and environmental outcomes.

Attribution of river water-quality trends to agricultural land use and climate variability in New Zealand

T. H. Snelder, C. Fraser, S. T. Larned, R. Monaghan, S. De Malmanche and A. L. Whitehead
Marine and Freshwater Research, September 2021

Trends at 1051 river monitoring sites across New Zealand incrementing annually for time windows of 10 and 20 years over the 28-year period ending 2017 were assessed from regular observations of six water quality variables. Between-site variation in trend strength and direction was modelled as a function of an indicator based on the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) and the mean of and changes to catchment: (1) stocking intensity associated with pastoral livestock; and (2) area associated with plantation forest. The SOI indicator made consistent contributions to the models for the 10-year windows, but the land use indicators did not, indicating that land use signals were generally swamped by the effects of climate variability at this timescale. Depending on the water quality variable, some land use indicators were associated with both water quality improvement and degradation. The relationships were generally consistent with plausible explanations.


If the climate is changing, will land use need to change?

Anne-Gaelle Ausseil, Mike Beare, Tony van der Weerden, Troy Baisden, Iris Vogeler, Liz Keller, Stephen Flood, Nicholas Cradock-Henry, Edmar Teieira and Andrew Sturman
Manaaki Whenua story map, 11 June 2021



Linda Lilburne, A Ausseil, T van der Weerden, J Guo, E Teixeira, A Sood, H Smith, A Neverman, M Donovan, A Parker, M Lieffering, S Thomas and R Cichota
Adaptive Strategies for Future Farming. Occasional Report No. 34. Farmed Landscapes Research Centre, Massey University (February 2022)

Future climate is likely to have a major impact on the primary sector, and has the potential to drive major shifts in land use as previously suitable climatic conditions change. Potential impacts on the primary sector can be due to chronic effects (long-term changes in climate conditions) or acute effects (extreme events). For chronic effects, the various climate change projection scenarios showed a general pasture increase in the spring but declines in the summer. The seasonality and spatial suitability of some crops will change. For acute effects, drought was shown to be an increasing issue in regions that are already drought-prone. Heat stress could increase. The level of adaptation needed will depend on the global warming trajectory and future climate change projections. These measures can range from tactical, to strategic or transformational changes. We plan to adopt the IPCC's risk-assessment approach, combining hazard, susceptibility, and adaptive capacity for each major risk. The biophysical models can help to assess the susceptibility of crops to future climate, with the hazard described by the likelihood of extreme events occurring in different parts of the country

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