A scientific programme aimed at improving the sustainability of hill country for sheep and beef farming is to be launched with the support of Beef + Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ).
The project, which is backed by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE)’s Partnership Scheme, will look at ways to invigorate hill country by developing sustainable production systems.
A strategy and action plan to increase the sustainability of hill country farming (economic, environmental, social and cultural) will be one of the key priorities for the initiative. A new farm class classification system for red meat production systems, using production based analysis, as compared to the current topographic/soil based system, will be developed.
As part of the programme, researchers will examine and quantify the impact of legumes and indigenous plants on production systems and their impact on hill country sustainability. A forage value framework for assessing the economic and ecological sustainability of mixed forage in the upper layer of soil (swards) is also planned.
Sam McIvor, B+LNZ chief executive, says hill country is the backbone of the sheep and beef sector, accounting for 70 percent of land use and the source of 70 percent of the animals processed.
“The ongoing use and productivity of New Zealand’s hill country is critical to the future of our industry.
“Consumers, customers, farmers and the wider public’s interest and expectations around the use of natural resources are rapidly changing. Historically, the focus has been on lifting the productive capacity of our landscapes.
“The purpose of this science programme is to focus on New Zealand hill country farming systems of the future by applying a new lens. That’s about focusing on developing our hill country production systems, whilst maintaining a sustainable balance between production, what is taken from the land, and enhancing the health and wellbeing of our land.
“B+LNZ’s development and leadership of the programme reflects our commitment to supporting vibrant rural communities, providing valuable insight for farmers, and improving farmer profitability.
“An improved understanding of resources, potential external inputs such as forage, and market opportunities for hill country will create a foundation for greater productivity and profitability, better risk management, and the attractiveness for hill country farming as a career opportunity.
“New science is all about insight and this project will give farmers and the wider community a new and enhanced understanding of physical resources held on farms, their value and how they can be managed to maximise not only the financial returns but also wider environmental returns for the sector, community and the country.”
A key aspect of the programme will be looking ahead 5-10 years to explore what the opportunities will be for hill country land use and the productivity challenges, says McIvor.
“Importantly, the project also has a strong wider community focus by creating ways to engage, grow understanding and support for hill country farming.”
B+LNZ, one of three partners in the programme alongside MBIE, PGG Wrightson and Seed Force New Zealand, is investing $700,000 per annum ($3.5 million over five years).
MBIE is contributing $3.1 million over five years to the project via the New Zealand Government’s Partnerships Scheme, which supports high-quality research aimed at increasing the competitiveness and sustainability of New Zealand’s economy.
Pakihiroa Farms (owned by Te Runanganui o Ngati Porou) and Greenlea Premier Meats are also providing in-kind support. The Federation of Maori Authorities (FOMA), AbacusBio, Lincoln University, DairyNZ, AgResearch, and On-Farm Research will deliver the research capabilities.
“We are really pleased to be partnering with the Federation of Māori Authorities and Pakihiroa Farms, as the principle of kaitiakitanga, guardianship and protection, will be integral to this project,” says McIvor.