Pathways to Transition

“Maverick” Farm Advisors with Smart Ideas Invited to Apply for Research Funding

DEADLINE EXTENSION: Applications are now due by 5pm, Friday 20 August. Do you have an innovative idea that could create real change for Kiwi farmers? Rural professionals are encouraged to team up with farmers to apply for $75,000 funding to rapidly test smart ideas and share the results.

Collage of photos from Rural Professionals Fund projects (2020 round)

Rural professionals are invited to team up with farmers to apply for funding to test innovative ideas that could lead to significant improvements in farming systems.

The Rural Professionals Fund, established in 2020 by the Our Land and Water National Science Challenge, is now accepting applications for a second round of funding to support projects that could benefit farming communities.

“We need to encourage more ‘mavericks’ to test smart ideas that challenge our patterns of behaviour,” says Stephen Macaulay, chief executive of the New Zealand Institute of Primary Industry Managers (NZIPIM), a key partner in the fund.  

“Farmers and rural professionals often try out new ideas and apply different farming practices because they are curious to see what will happen. Wouldn’t it be great to see some of these promising ideas move beyond the farm gate?”

The second round of the Rural Professionals Fund will invest up to $75,000 in projects that will rapidly test ideas and innovations within a short nine-month time frame. Project teams must include a rural professional, and a farmer or grower. The team also must include a person with relevant scientific or technical expertise, or mātauranga Māori, or kaupapa Māori research expertise (this may be the rural professional in some cases).

Projects must align with the Our Land and Water objective: to improve Aotearoa’s land and water quality for future generations, while enhancing the value of the primary sector to New Zealand.

“We are particularly interested in projects that will help diversify land use and practices, effect behavioural change and create new ways of doing things across the agri-food and fibre system,” explains Richard McDowell, chief scientist for Our Land and Water.

“We want to see concepts emerge that can generate evidence and move into action quickly, The Rural Professionals Fund allows us to quickly explore a lot of options, and encourage and resource more innovators and entrepreneurs to test their good ideas.”

Communicating the results of both successful and unsuccessful projects to the wider rural profession and farming community is a crucial part of the process.

“We are particularly interested in projects that will help diversify land use and practices, effect behavioural change and create new ways of doing things”

— Richard McDowell, chief scientist for Our Land and Water.

“If projects show promising results they could apply for other research funding for further examination. Should the opposite occur, we can fail fast, learn from the experience and move on to the next exciting prospect,” says Macaulay.

Last year, the fund received 31 applications, of which 15 projects were funded (see and are now close to completion. These projects encompassed a wide variety of farm systems, industries and ideas, tackling questions including:

  • Does pure, clean drinking water improve milk production in cows?
  • What horticulture and arable options are suitable for hill country?
  • Does regenerative-style farming produce higher quality meat?
  • Are banana plants a suitable feed for cows?
  • Should we grow more trees in pastures?
  • Which soil characteristics correlate with high avocado yield?
  • Can we make it easier for farmers to prioritise mitigations?
  • Are farmers likely to accept the use of drones for environmental monitoring?

The projects all have one thing in common: if the concept was proved, it could create real benefit for New Zealand farming communities, our land, or our water.

The application form is available at Applications are due by 5pm, Friday 20 August 2021. Progress updates about current projects are posted on


Annabel McAleer

Communications Manager, Our Land and Water. Text in this article is licensed for re-use under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)


  • Hi Annabel,
    We have only just seen that this funding is available. I am currently part of a group of ten cropping farmers who have set up a project with FAR’s “Growers Leading Change” project. We are looking at ways to cut back on the use of chemically treated seed by improving the biology of the soil and so reduce the use chemicals. This is a very very much simplified overview of the project. I think the timeframe to put in an application is too short, but would welcome any suggestions you might have.
    James Halford

    • Kia ora James, We do plan to run this fund annually, so you can apply next year. Please follow us on social media and sign up for our email newsletter so you hear about it sooner next time!


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