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Thursday, 17 February 2022 06:55

Questioning is not an attack!

Written by  Jacqueline Rowarth
Dr Jacqueline Rowarth Dr Jacqueline Rowarth

OPINION: Scientists have been accused of mounting a sustained attack on regenerative agriculture and splitting the science community. Not all, but some.

The words are disappointing and misleading.

What some agricultural scientists have done is continue to ask questions of regenerative proponents. The ongoing questioning is because no answers have appeared - the proponents want money to do the research to answer the questions.

The point that agricultural scientists have been making is that a lot of the 'needed' research has been done and results are available. Some has been funded recently by various combinations of Ministry of Primary Industries (the farmer-science funding now termed Sustainable Food and Fibre Fund), Ministry for Business and Employment and levy bodies and has not shown positive results.

The use of Brix measurements (great for viticulture but not for ruminants) and of the American Albrecht-Kinsey ratio approach to soil nutrients, are examples. They are not as good as current conventional approaches using metabolisable energy. The New Zealand soil laboratories measure Olsen-P and all the other nutrients determined to be important over decades of research on New Zealand soils through calibration with grass growth. If the 'new' approaches had proved advantageous, they would have been incorporated into conventional agriculture.

Similarly, hyperdiverse pastures have not been shown to be as productive as the combinations of grass, legumes and herbs already used in conventional agriculture. If they aren't as productive, there tend to be shortages at some times of the year, meaning that fod must be brought in or animal welfare suffers.

The alternative is fewer animals all the time, and difficulties with pasture quality control at some times of the year. Lower pasture quality is associated with higher greenhouse gas per unit of production. Food production, the environment and income are detrimentally affected. American regenerative agriculture proponents advise adjusting the number of animals to suit pasture growth. Not always acknowledged is that this requires another farm supplying and receiving animals. The question then might be how that second farm is managed, but again, there are no answers.

Research has also been done on what happens if you withdraw fertiliser such as super phosphate and nitrogen. Pasture growth decreases, possibly not immediately, depending on the nutrient status to start with, but certainly after a season or two. The withdrawal of superphosphate trials showed that 15 years after the fertiliser addition stopped, the hill country farmlets were still losing production.

There is also research on replacing the use of antibiotics, which is very low in farming in New Zealand, with homeopathic treatments. They have no positive effect.

We have the results of research showing all of this. The results have been incorporated into conventional agricultural systems and New Zealand farmer have been shown to be world leading.

New Zealand's agricultural scientists are almost at one of being proud of what has been achieved here with farmers, rural professionals and scientists working together on goals for sustainability. These include productivity gains, reducing risks to production, maintaining and improving the environment, being economically viable and socially acceptable. Regenerative proponents tend to be influenced by overseas researchers, have an organic background, and are not agricultural scientists who have spent their working lives learning about effects and consequences within the New Zealand context.

Professor Derrick Moot, lead of Dryland Pastures Research at Lincoln University, has explained the challenges clearly at various conferences. He has also recorded the information to assist anybody interested to understand the issues.

"I'm an agronomist," he says. "I'm focused on feeding people and protecting the environment - and producing food comes first."

Agricultural scientists are focused on improving the system that works within the New Zealand environment, rather than fine-tuning theories from overseas. Professor Moot's Youtube video makes it clear why.

Dr Jacqueline Rowarth, Adjunct Professor Lincoln University, is a farmer-elected director of DairyNZ and Ravensdown. The analysis and conclusions above are her own. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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