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Published: 2009-06-10 00:00:00

Sustainable farming is the primary focus of multi-million dollar research and development efforts by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, regional council Environment Waikato and Crown Research Institute AgResearch.

The three organisations will feature the outcomes from some of their research projects on their Fertile Ground stand at this year’s Fieldays, a move which reflects their commitment to helping farmers manage their current economic and environmental challenges.

MAF Director General Murray Sherwin says MAF invests more than $6.5 million annually in programmes delivered by its research partners, aimed at creating new tools and technologies to help farmers remain sustainable, resilient and productive in the face of changing market and environmental conditions.

“Our focus is on future-proofing the industry as best we can by working alongside others including research providers, agriculture sector businesses and individual farmers.

“Co-operation is critical in order to maximise the outputs that can be gained from our collective efforts in supporting sustainable agriculture.”

Research currently supported by MAF includes projects aimed at reducing methane and nitrous oxide emissions, managing methane from animal waste, and the role of wetlands as sources of nitrous oxide emissions.

Other projects include identifying the impacts and opportunities associated with climate change. 

Environment Waikato’s direct investment in sustainable agriculture-related activities this current financial year comes to about $5.5 million.

Work paid for by this funding includes:
· regional monitoring and information gathering for developing land and soil management practices
· research on ways to improve soil quality and prevent erosion
· EW’s participation in various national sustainable agriculture projects
· Working with industry and farmer groups to develop and promote best practice on farm
· EW’s involvement in field days
· monitoring farms and developing farm plans with farmers.

Other activities related directly to sustainable farming include the monitoring of permitted activities by farmers in the region and the development of sustainable agriculture policy. On top of the $5.5 million, EW also promotes soil conservation practices on farmland throughout the region. This results in about $1.5 million worth of soil conservation work being completed of which landowners meet a share of the cost and EW provides a grant of 35 per cent (about $500,000).

“Many farmers are already doing a great job when it comes to protecting the environment,” said EW chairman Peter Buckley.

“Our sustainable agriculture work supports that existing effort by providing advice to farmers to make further environmental improvements. We’re helping develop new tools and working to ensure best practice on effluent disposal and nutrient management.”

There have been some proposed reductions in sustainable agriculture-related spending for next year due to the global financial situation, said Cr Buckley.

However, the council is in the process of assessing community feedback on its spending plans for 2009-10. “While we are having to cut our cloth to suit the times, we recognise we must protect our agricultural resource base to help farming continue to be profitable, while at the same time protecting the environment for its own sake. We will look to make final decisions about spending for next year during June.”

AgResearch, meanwhile, uses funds provided by MAF, EW, the Foundation for Research Science and Technology and farmer levies to support its sustainable agriculture research activities.
“The substantial investments we receive from research funders help us employ around 650 scientists and technicians,” said AgResearch CE Dr Andrew West.
“These are staff whose jobs are specifically aimed at making New Zealand farms and the wider pastoral sector sustainable and resilient in the face of change.
“Helping farmers and food and textile processors to be more environmentally sustainable will remain a priority for AgResearch and we will continue to work closely with partners like MAF and EW.”