Regenerative farming: measuring the impact.
It has been a wild ride and sometimes, we need to stop, breathe and take it all in. From the start of our journey to taking our lovely little patch of land down a regenerative and biological path, we said we’d share what we were learning. There have definitely been some challenges and the long dry summer, while epic for tomatoes was not so great for cows. Nonetheless, the rain has come, the land has bounced back and we’ve had some pretty exciting results and it’s cool to be able to measure and share the impact of farming regeneratively.
Increased soil health
We test our soil yearly and, since running a biological and regenerative system have achieved a 1% increase organic matter! This is pretty incredible - to put it into perspective a .4% yearly increase in organic matter in farms throughout the world would make it possible to halt the present increase in atmospheric CO2 (organic matter is closely related to carbon held in the soil). This increase in carbon means more fertility, less erosion and equates to about 20mm of increased water holding capacity. See the video below for how this all works. From our most recent tests, our levels of calcium, magnesium and potassium in our soil are now close to ideal biological function and our PH levels have increased from 5.5 to 6 (.5 off ideal biological conditions).
One of our big driving forces was happier, healthier cows and, while the total farm production (of milk) so far is slightly lower than on a high input system, the general health is significantly higher. With the introduction of over nine different species of herbs and grasses, the cows have turned into foragers adapting their diets and eating based on their nutritional needs. With this, we have seen a 66.5% reduction in veterinary bills and only one cow with a metabolic issue in the most recent calving. We’ve also had an 80% reduction in lame cows with no race or surface work and noticed a significant improvement in cow temperament, the girls are flowing.
More resilient pastures
With 50% of the farm in a diverse range of grasses, herbs, legumes, our pastures are performing well during periods of harsh weather - drought or excess moisture. Different plants within the ecosystem thrive in different climatic periods - in summer the deep roots of the chicory and red clover reach water below and sustain life on top of the soil while aerating it for the winter. in winter, the cooler season grasses come to life. The bounce-back after the end of summer and an incredibly dry autumn, was faster than we’ve ever seen.
Our cows are not the only ones who have appreciated our diverse mixed grass herbage pastures. Since diversifying our pastures, we’ve noticed a dramatic increase in insect, worm and bird life. The farm supports a population of blue heron, paradise shelducks, kereru (native wood pigeon), pukeko, kingfisher, morepork and piwakawaka (fantail) among many others. Thousands of bees are sustained by the red and white clover and millions of worms by the micro-organisms and organic matter in the soil.
What it all means
We’re pretty excited by these initial results which are proving to us not only how resilient nature is when you support her, but also the potential of regenerative, organic, biological (whatever you want to call it - farming with nature) has for the planet and for people.
At a time where food security, climate change, and sustainability are on top of the agenda for much of the global community, New Zealand’s agricultural roots provide both a challenge and a huge opportunity:
Consumers are demanding authentic, natural, simple, local, environmentally friendly products (and are reaching their peak earning years);
The organic market is growing twice as fast as the conventional market;
Investors are increasingly looking to create and value ‘impact’ alongside financial returns;
Reflecting this groundswell, the reliance of the New Zealand economy on primary products and the impact farming has on our environment, the New Zealand Government has put 229 million in the new well being budget to help farmers farm sustainably.
"We have long called for more support for farmers to transition towards sustainable farming methods. We just hope this money is used for initiatives that are actually transformative, not just tinkering around the edges. We need to be diversifying our farming, and farming within environmental limits, not just carrying out more planting and fencing." Kevin Hague - CEO Forest and Bird
New Zealand has adopted a framework that values natural, human and social capital, but Govt and business are still trying to work out how, beyond compliance, transformative change in use of land and farming can actually take place. It would seem that regenerative farming and a focus on the soil and the microbiology in it holds huge potential to face gnarly challenges like food security and climate change.
It feels like we’ve on the crest of a wave, testing and building the foundations to model how it is possible for so many New Zealand farmers to be both environmental and profitable in a model that can be replicated. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves of that. On the cold days, the wet days or the days when we get a blank look when we say we’re ok to have less milk flowing right now and that we know it will come. If this is what we can do in less than two years, then the future is pretty exciting.