13 Feb 2023

$2m trial to test efficacy of regenerative farming for crops, vegetables

1:42 pm on 13 February 2023
Farmer's hand planting seeds in soil

One part of the trial will focus on reducing the use of herbicides, fungicides and insecticides. Photo: 123RF

The government is backing a research project on regenerative farming practices of arable and vegetable crops in Hawke's Bay.

Minister of Agriculture Damien O'Connor announced $2 million will be spent over six years for the New Zealand-first project.

Led by Hawke's Bay Future Farming Charitable Trust in partnership with LandWISE, the project aims to build evidence on the application and effectiveness of regenerative farming in arable and intensive field cropping.

Trust chair Phillip Schofield said the demonstration farm would be split and managed with three different systems to validate any benefits.

"One which will be the standard grower practice treatment... what commercial growers are currently doing in New Zealand.

"Another called the regenerative treatment which is full transition or movement away from use of cultivation and much reduced use of herbicides, fungicides and insecticides.

"And a third treatment which will be a hybrid of those which we see as helping build a transition into farming practices that are better for the soil than the current conventional methods."

The project had been in the works for three years with crops going in the ground this summer, Schofield said.

"We are keen to learn what we can in order to help growers with production systems that will be better for their profit and better for their environment."

LandWISE had provided four hectares of land in "average condition" for the project to take place.

Dan Bloomer of the incorporation said the project would measure the financial benefit to the farmer on top of other parameters.

"We're measuring soil carbon, we're measuring soil quality parameters, we're measuring crop quality yields but we're also tracking profitability.

"You can focus on fixing one thing but if something else is not working then it's no good. So we're tying the whole package together."

Potential outcomes could include improved water quality, reduced nutrient losses and resilience to climate change.

Bloomer said the 90-metre long by 12-metre wide plots were big for science plots, however, they allowed for conventional farm machinery to do the work and ensured their findings could be transferred to a working farm.

The 'Carbon Positive - Regenerating soil carbon' project is co-funded by the Ministry for Primary Industries' sustainable food and fibre futures fund.

The project is supported by a collaboration of regional and national organisations including Kraft Heinz Wattie's NZ, McCain Foods NZ, Hawke's Bay Vegetable Growers, Hawke's Bay Regional Council and BASF.

O'Connor said it complemented research already underway on the effectiveness of regenerative farming practices in pastoral farming systems.

"Worldwide we're seeing increased demand for food grown sustainably with a reduced environmental footprint. There are exciting opportunities for New Zealand to tap into this market, which is why we're co-investing with industry.

"Working with two global food giants will also help us better understand how New Zealand can supply products to meet future consumer trends."

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