Carbon-positive project to research impact of regenerative farming practices

The Government is backing new research on the potential of regenerative farming practices to boost soil carbon in arable, vegetable and other crop growing systems, Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor announced.

More than $2 million over six years is being committed in Hawke’s Bay to help build up an evidence base on the application and effectiveness of regenerative farming in a typical intensive field cropping and arable systems, Mr O’Connor said.

This would be the first project in the government’s regenerative agriculture programme to include the arable sector.

The project, led by Hawke’s Bay Future Farming Charitable Trust with science and operations partner LandWISE, will be run on LandWISE’s demonstration farm in the Heretaunga Plains, with a focus on degraded soils.

“It complements the research already underway on the effectiveness of regenerative farming practices in our pastoral farming systems.”

The ‘Carbon Positive – Regenerating soil carbon’ project is co-funded by the Ministry for Primary Industries’ (MPI) Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund (SFF Futures).

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

“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,” Damien O’Connor said.

“Working with two global food giants, Kraft Heinz Watties NZ and McCain Foods NZ, will also help us better understand how New Zealand can supply products to meet future consumer trends.”

Mr O’Connor said the demonstration farm will be split and managed with three different systems to validate any benefits.

“The researchers will set up a conventional system using current industry best practice and recognised crop rotations,” he said.

“They will also set up a fully regenerative system involving cover crops and minimal use of herbicides and insecticides, and a hybrid system that incorporates a mixture of techniques to help demonstrate a transitional pathway for farmers.

“The project team will do extensive monitoring to measure and evaluate the impact on productivity and profitability, to help them develop best practice.

“Potential outcomes from the regenerative farming approach could include improved water quality and use; reduced nutrient losses and use; healthier soils; and resilience to climate change.”

The Fit for a Better World Government and sector roadmap identified regenerative agriculture as a potential highvalue and sustainable point of difference for New Zealand.

Through SFF Futures, the Government is backing a portfolio of 12 research projects to date with a combined investment of just over $57.7 million. These projects aim to deliver an evidence base on the effectiveness of regenerative farming practices that suit New Zealand’s soils, climate, and production systems.

A statement posted on the Hawke’s Bay Future Farming website announced the news under the headline Trust announces $3m project in Hastings.

It says a ground-breaking study testing whether soil carbon can be regenerated – and to what extent – in soils used for intensive field cropping is underway in Hawke’s Bay.

In a first for the New Zealand cropping sector, the Carbon Positive project brings together central and Hawke’s Bay local government, vegetable growers and processors, and suppliers to the cropping industry.

Phil Schofield HBFFT chair and soil health specialist says the trial is an exciting opportunity to test whether soils used for intensive cropping can be regenerated.

“The potential of this project for New Zealand’s cropping farmers is huge. Through this study we will increase our understanding of the benefits of regenerative agriculture principles on intensive cropping systems.

“We are incredibly grateful for the support of our funding and collaboration partners. And delighted that our region’s largest food processors — Kraft Heinz Watties NZ and McCain Foods NZ — are involved and eager to help explore practices that can put our growers on a better footing environmentally and financially and make their systems more resilient in the face of climate change. Our test site will showcase alternative management systems that growers can adopt.”

LandWISE Manager Dan Bloomer says

“We know cropping affects soil quality. The longer and more intensively used, the higher the likelihood that soil carbon levels have dropped, soil is compacted, and structure is more degraded. Competition for land intensifies cropping so we want to know if management changes can make a positive difference.”

“We’ve measured soil quality at our MicroFarm where the six year trial is taking place and after 8 – 10 years conventional cropping it is now in a fairly average condition. This trial will let us see if regenerative agriculture practices, which focus on strengthening the health and vitality of farm soil, have different outcomes compared to those from conventional cropping methods.  We are also testing a hybrid system, taking aspects from both regen and conventional practice as a sort of half-way house.”  

The project will examine soil carbon stocks, soil carbon cycling, soil health, crop yield, and farm economics, giving rigorous scientific assessments of environmental, productivity and profitability outcomes.

It will:

  • Increase understanding of cost/benefits of alternative practices
  • Illustrate possible conversion pathways
  • Support development of decision making tools
  • Increase knowledge of regenerative farming principles through the value chain.

The trust’s press statement says the project weaves mātauranga Māori principles throughout its activities through a developing relationship with neighbouring Ruahapia Marae and guidance from ethnobotany Professor Nick Roskruge (Te Atiawa, Ngāti Tama).

Carbon Positive has commercial, science, and industry partners as follows:

Commercial partners – Heinz Wattie’s, McCain Foods, BASF, Hill Laboratories

Science partners  – Ministry for Primary Industries, Plant & Food Research, Manaaki Whenua (Landcare Research), Massey University, AgResearch, Hawke’s Bay Regional Council

Industry partners – HB Vegetable Growers, Quorum Sense

The full statement from Minister O’Connor is here.


The Hawke’s Bay Future Farming Charitable Trust was established in September 2019 following the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council’s adopting and funding the ‘Future Farming Initiative’ in its 2018 Long Term Plan. The trust is governed by a Board of Trustees.It is  supported by sponsors Bayleys Country, Napier Port, Hastings District Council and Hawke’s Bay Regional Council.Its purpose “is to shine a light on Hawke’s Bay’s existing and emerging farming expertise, and create a local hub of knowledge, research, education and opportunity for profitable and resilient farming to ensure the health of the region’s soil and water, communities and farmers into the future”.

LandWISE was formed in 1999 to co-ordinate on-farm research and development, primarily in the vegetable and arable cropping industries.In 2003, it became an incorporated society with charitable status and a prime objective to provide leadership and support for the development and promotion of sustainable production.  

Sources:  Minister of Agriculture and Hawke’s Bay Future Farming

Author: Bob Edlin

Editor of AgScience Magazine and Editor of the AgScience Blog