Five reports released today provide timely insights into regenerative agriculture in Aotearoa New Zealand in 2021.
Regenerative agriculture is emerging as a global movement, with a vision of agriculture that regenerates the natural world while producing ‘nutrient-dense’ food and providing farmers with good livelihoods. Momentum has been building throughout the food system, from farmers to multinational food companies like McCain, PepsiCo, Nestlé, Unilever, General Mills, and Danone.
Interest in the ‘regenerative’ approach to food production has also been steadily increasing among New Zealand farmers, industry, processors and marketers. This has highlighted the need to better understand what regenerative agriculture means in the context of our country – and for scientific testing of its claimed benefits.
The five reports released today include an outline of some of the regenerative principles applied in New Zealand, and the outcomes and research needed by representatives of four key New Zealand agricultural sectors (dairy, sheep and beef, arable, and viticulture). The outcomes being sought by representatives of these sector groups included: decisions based on long-term outcomes; achieving pride in farming; increasing profitability rather than merely increasing production; continuous learning; and positioning New Zealand as a world leader in regenerative agriculture.
One report provides a short history of ‘alternative agricultures’ to show where regenerative agriculture has emerged from – and tackles the interesting question of whether any farming system can be called ‘scientific' or ‘unscientific'.
Another provides an overview on te ao Māori (the Māori worldview) and regenerative agriculture. Although alignment has been suggested by many across all agricultural sectors, much of the work to explore and understand the linkages between tikanga-led food and fibre production and regenerative agriculture principles is still in progress or yet to be done. It is vital that this work is led by Māori experts and farmers.
The five reports are:
- Project overview and statement of purpose
- A short guide to the ‘alternative agricultures'
- Tangata ahu whenua: nurturing our landscapes
- Regenerative principles applied in New Zealand
- Insights from four key New Zealand ag sectors
About the research project
The reports were produced by a research project led by Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research senior researcher Dr Gwen Grelet, and independent social researcher Sam Lang, who is also a sheep and beef farmer and an extension manager with Quorum Sense.
The Regenerative Agriculture project will produce a total of 20 reports this year, with subsequent reports to be released weekly through November.
Dr Grelet says regenerative agriculture is not a magic bullet, but its grass-roots popularity with farmers and incentives for adoption from some of the world's largest food companies mean it also has potential for driving the transformation of New Zealand’s agri-food system to help move our country closer to its goals.
“Now is an exciting time for scientists and farmers to work together towards a better understanding of regenerative agriculture, and what benefits may – or may not – arise from the adoption of regenerative agriculture in New Zealand,” says Dr Grelet.
The project was funded by the Our Land and Water National Science Challenge, the NEXT Foundation and Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research.
New approach to research is needed
Regenerative agriculture research is underway in New Zealand, but it requires a departure from traditional agricultural research, says Dr Grelet. “Farmers use and adapt regenerative agriculture practices to optimise farm performance for multiple benefits simultaneously. This isn't easy to measure using conventional academic approaches.”
Traditional agricultural science can often take a linear approach: knowledge is shared from scientists to farmers, who might then adopt one change and observe the result. This process often takes months or years.
A report released today suggests that research into regenerative agriculture demands a ‘complexity aware’ approach, in which farmers are research partners, and knowledge comes from multiple research disciplines and other sources of innovation (such as business or technology). Farmers might adopt several changes at once, so it’s much harder to draw a straight line from one change to one outcome.
The challenge for researchers is to deploy robust, rigorous, and replicable experimental approaches – while also accounting for uncertainty, changeability and complexity. (This approach is briefly outlined in the Project overview and statement of purpose report.)
This approach to research requires curiosity, open-mindedness, and working together, says Dr Grelet. “We are so fortunate to live in a small country, where incredibly talented people work and live just on our doorstep, and where the impact of one’s actions are perceived almost immediately.”
“In my opinion, if one country can successfully undertake the collaborative and cohesive research projects that are required, it is New Zealand.”
Register for the webinar series
A webinar to be held on Tuesday 26 October (12–1pm) will discuss these reports, including thoughts on how regenerative agriculture emerged from the many ‘alternative agricultures’, insights on questions often asked about regenerative agriculture, and the different considerations and opportunities for Māori farming entities.
Speakers: Dr Gwen Grelet (Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research), Hugh Good (Beef + Lamb NZ), Dr Charles Merfield (Future Farming Centre), Dr Selai Letica (Our Land and Water), Sam Lang (independent social researcher)
EDIT: This webinar has now been held, see video embedded above or on Vimeo here. Register for the remaining webinars in this series below:
- The Regenerative Agriculture project was a large collaborative effort across the New Zealand agri-food system over the course of 6 months in 2020 that included representatives of the research community, farming industry bodies, farmers (conventional and ‘regenerative’), consultants, governmental organisations, and entrepreneurs.
- More information about all webinars in the series
- The five reports are:
- Note: The reports in this project were prepared simultaneously and independently of each other. Authors did not always have the opportunity to read other reports before submitting their final reports. Some inconsistencies between reports may result.