As people who read my website www.quinfert.co.nz or my posts on LinkedIn will know, I have started taking part in the debate on regenerative farming (regen for short).
Many members of the agricultural research fraternity, particularly those involved in various aspects of dairy farming, have criticised regen for even daring to exist as a farmer-led movement, for a variety of related reasons. These centre around it being ‘nothing new’, not being ‘specific enough’, and for not believing that all NZ farming systems, including dairy farming, are ‘already regenerative and have been for the last 100/75/50 years’ (pick your own number).
These criticisms come, I believe, from a combination of scientific arrogance, declining innovative thinking, and a decline in funding for and interest in long-term farming research as opposed to short-term, high publication output research projects on very narrow topics.
The simple truth is that the regen ‘movement’ would not exist in NZ if very significant numbers of farmers (I estimate at least 40%) did not share a deepening concern regarding where this increasing pressure on farmers to adopt new technologies to increase short-term production are taking farming as a career and way of life.
How can we even use term s such as NZ’s unique ‘100% pure’ pastoral production, when, even putting the likes of imported PKE to one side, most dairy pastures have to be resown every 3-4 years. The massive over-use of granular urea (the world’s leakiest N fertiliser) to chase the god or maximum production has essentially banished clover and its atmospheric highly-efficient nitrogen – fixing ability from the majority of NZ dairy farms. They are resown on average every 3-4 years with short-term or annual ryegrass mixes, which need a lot of N to optimise their production, trapping farmers in a vicious ‘chasing-the-tail’ cycle (pun intended). The only winners here are the seed merchants and urea fertiliser producers and distributors.
Why did we go down this path, instead of grabbing hold of the opportunity to promote our pastoral system and products generally as something uniquely sustainable and regenerative? Where was the scientific leadership and concern?
Fortunately, it may not be too late. The environmental damage being caused by maximising production, has been happening in plain sight without any serious consideration or concern from by the pastoral agriculture research fraternity. This has finally led the government to ignore AgResearch and tools like Overseer®, developed by the fertiliser-industry duopoly and timidly promoted by most Regional Councils, and introduced N input limits, as virtually all developed countries did decades ago.
The introduction of this single small regulation has greatly helped make possible a much wider and much more representative discussion of just where we should be going with NZ pastoral agriculture, and dairying in particular.
A regenerative move to far longer-term pastures containing a variety of clovers, grasses (eg
resilient ryegrasses and cocksfoot and plantain-type persistent herbs), with an absolute
fertiliser N limit of say 100 kg N/ha annually, applied as much more efficient forms than old-school granular urea, is essential for dairy farming to be truly sustainable, which includes
being environmentally protective.
Certainly, dairying production may drop by about 5-7%. But this is of no concern if NZ can
earn a premium of 20% or more for its products internationally by promoting the real
environmental and stock health advantages of ‘NZ regen’.
An integral component of achieving these benefits is to adopt a definition of NZ
regenerative farming that (i) covers all the key environmental (including GHGs) concerns,
(ii) emphasises how it optimises stock health, (ii) is understood and accepted as achievable
and worthwhile by the majority of farmers, and(iii) a large and ongoing campaign is
undertaken by Fonterra etc to educate consumers in both NZ and overseas.
The system needs an easily remembered and therefore recognised name. My suggestion is ‘Regenza’ (regenerative NZ agriculture). I prefer the sound spoken with a soft ‘g’ (as in
gentleman). I have taken the precaution of registering the name, so it cannot be stolen by
The next post in the series is the latest evolution of the definition of Regenza® , following
discussions with many individuals over the past 6 weeks. Please send me your comments, to firstname.lastname@example.org.