Tuesday, 20 September 2022 09:55

Slogans need science - Thorrald

Written by  Peter Burke
DairyNZ strategy and investment leader Bruce Thorrold. DairyNZ strategy and investment leader Bruce Thorrold.

Getting some quality science behind the philosophy of regenerative agriculture is critical, according to DairyNZ's strategy and investment leader Bruce Thorrold.

His comments follow the announcement by the Government recently to spend $26 million on a comprehensive study into the sustainability of the New Zealand farming sector and determine what regenerative agriculture might look like in an NZ context.

Thorrold says regenerative agriculture to him is a philosophy of farming and in ways that make it better in the future than it is today. He says that is across a whole range of metrics such as people, animals, the environment and the quality of the food we produce.

"That is underpinned by what I would call a 'social movement' and a set of practices which lead to things getting better. I think most of the debate is about practices and the science behind them and what practices genuinely make things better," he says.

Thorrold says in terms of dairy, one of the issues in focus is what is known as hyper-diverse pastures and there is debate about the definition of this. He says common thinking among regenerative agriculture practitioners is the planting of more than ten grass species and seeing how these evolve over time, as opposed to sowing ryegrass plantain and clover, which he says some people would view as a diverse pasture.

"Let's face it, everybody wants to be better and farmers believe quite correctly that many of the things they do now as standard farm practices are, in other parts of the world, regarded as leading-edge regenerative farming. So by getting some science behind the regenerative philosophy, farmers, policymakers and others will have the scientific evidence to support good decision making," he says.

Thorrold says regenerative practices not only vary from country to country but also from farm to farm. He says for example the practices of a beef and deer farmer in Hawke's Bay will vary considerably from a Southland dairy farmer.

"One of the things that farmers really like about regenerative agriculture is that it is not deeply prescriptive. You change and adapt in a way that suits the variability of your farming situation, unlike an organic farmer who is facing a drought.

"They may have a problem because they have a restrictive set of practices that they are allowed to do in order to deal with that drought. Farmers like regenerative agriculture because it gives them the flexibility," he says.

DairyNZ has not done any promotion on it, but is an integral part of the overall project and have invested in it alongside MPI and the Taranaki Dairy Trust.

He says, aside of this project, a lot of other research is being done on best farming practice. He points to work on winter grazing, animal care, plantain and farming systems which reduce nitrogen loss and lower dairy's environmental footprint.

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