Whenua haumanu – nurturing the land through exploring pastoral farming

Strong local and national interest in regenerative farming saw close to 200 people attending an on-farm field day on 28 November, the largest turnout for a farm event at Massey University in 20 years.

The event showcased Massey University’s Whenua Haumanu programme – the partnership between Massey University and the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI). It is the most comprehensive programme on the effects of contemporary and regenerative pastoral practices.

This seven-year project brings together universities, Crown Research Institutes and industry partners to assess the suitability and relevance of regenerative agriculture in New Zealand.

Programme and Research Lead Professor Danny Donaghy said in his opening remarks that “everyone who is anyone in the New Zealand pastoral industry is involved – and if they are not currently, we welcome them to become involved.”

Whenua Haumanu measures multiple aspects throughout the farm system, exploring how different pasture mixes and management practices impact soil biology, pasture growth, animal production, quality of milk, meat and wool products, nutrient leaching, emissions, and carbon capture and storage.

Attendees of the field day spent time on Massey University sheep and dairy farms learning about contemporary and regenerative farming practices across both standard and diverse pastures on several research sites. Attendees said they enjoyed the practical ‘in the paddock experience’ and were keen to visit again to see further results in coming years.

They were shown how Massey scientists are measuring what is happening below ground, including root activity of pasture plants, the structure and chemistry of the soil, and the flow of nutrients over and through the soil. Above ground the researchers are studying the dynamics of the pasture mixes, greenhouse gases and the interactions with animals and animal products.

“Pastures with a diverse mix of plants and farming practices that nurture the soil are key to regenerative agriculture. Above and below ground, exploring how this works, and why, is the focus of the research,” Professor Donaghy says.

Dairy Research lead Dr Nick Sneddon explained how differences in the taste of milk were being investigated along with cow reproductive performance, milk production and animal well-being.

After 18 months, all farms are “really humming” according to the sheep research lead Dr Lydia Cranston, who is confident they are achieving great results through regenerative and contemporary management across the farms.

Professor Donaghy was pleased with the turnout and the collaboration from different industry partners.

“This is the biggest farm event we have had in 20 years. It is great to see people from other universities, research Institutes, industry partners and some international guests attend and take an interest in the Whenua Haumanu programme.”

Ministry for Primary Industries Chief Adviser to the Deputy Director-General Māori Partnerships and Investment Peter Ettema said it was great to see such a strong turnout.

“Lots of people are interested in regenerative agriculture and how this compares with our current practices. Massey University has done a great job bringing a diverse team together to undertake and explain the science behind the research and assess the impacts of alternative approaches to contemporary farming.”

Source  Massey University

Author: Bob Edlin

Editor of AgScience Magazine and Editor of the AgScience Blog