Ngāi Tahu Farming contract research organisations to validate science of regenerative farming trial

Oct 26, 2022

Te Whenua Hou Te Whenua Whitiora regenerative farm trial

Ngāi Tahu Farming have signed an agreement with the research organisations who will provide the data and insights for the seven-year Te Whenua Hou Te Whenua Whitiora (The New Land, The New Horizon) regenerative trial.

The contract signed at Kōkōmuka Lodge today establishes the delivery of specialist science and advisory workstreams that aim to validate additional sustainable farming practices for New Zealand farmers.

As part of its wider agreement with MPI and Ngāi Tūāhuriri, Ngāi Tahu Farming will contract AgResearch, DairyNZ, Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research, The Agribusiness Group and Soil Connection as providers for the whole-farm trial.

The $8 million of government funding through the Ministry for Primary Industries’ Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund for Te Whenua Hou Te Whenua Whitiora trial is provided directly to the organisations conducting the research.

Ngāi Tahu Holdings Chief Executive, Craig Ellison says alternative farming systems have not been researched at this scale or depth in New Zealand before.

“The pressures on Aotearoa New Zealand’s pastoral farmers are mounting and being part of the solution is the only way to progress into the future,” says Craig.

Ngāi Tahu Farming General Manager, Will Burrett says the proposed 2025 greenhouse gas emission charges, freshwater farm plans, community expectations and international consumer preferences are all challenging conventional farming systems.

“Supporting farmers with quality insights of an alternative system and the impact it can have on total farm performance is vital to help define change,” says Will.

The research providers will seek to verify the regenerative farming practices with scientific metrics of all aspects of farming, including the impacts of regenerative agriculture practices on farm workers.

DairyNZ will monitor the farm workers through a range of metrics including worker wellbeing, engagement, sleep and fatigue, and task diversity and productivity. The organisation will also monitor farm management and analyse pasture and animal productivity, and economic performance. With DairyNZ’s models, greenhouse gas emissions and nitrate leaching at farm scale will be estimated.

DairyNZ Chief Executive Dr Tim Mackle says DairyNZ’s role is to ensure dairy farmers have science-backed information to help them make the best decisions for their farming business and future.

“Farmers must have sound research information to be able to make the best decisions on which farm system and practices they want to work with. The science from this study will help inform that,” says Tim.

During the project Manaaki Whenua researchers will be looking at water-use efficiency, measure root zone nitrate leaching, changes in soil carbon and nitrogen stocks, and nitrous oxide and methane emissions.

“We need to answer questions around; do regenerative practices reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, do they reduce irrigation needs and do they reduce nutrient losses and groundwater pollution,” says Manaaki Whenua Project lead Dr Johannes Laubach.

Manaaki Whenua will also be researching plant species composition over time.

AgResearch will draw on its breadth of science expertise to provide benchmarking and evaluation of the different farming approaches, across areas such as soil health, animal health and the quality of meat and milk produced.

“While there is a lot of interest now in regenerative farming practices, we still don’t have a lot of data in the New Zealand context,” says AgResearch principal scientist Axel Heiser.

“By working with Ngāi Tahu Farming, Ngāi Tūāhuriri and other partners in this multi-year study, we can really grow our understanding of the opportunities to farm in a more resilient and ethical way in Aotearoa.”

The AgriBusiness Group will assess assurance standards and consumer trends while Soil Connection will provide regenerative systems advice for the study.

Soil Connection Chief Executive, Greg Barclay says he wants to demonstrate how a diverse and healthy ecology can support our economy.

“We’re looking forward to coaching Ngāi Tahu farm managers to successfully negotiate the transition from conventional soil and pastural management to regenerative biological recycling and more organic pastural systems,” says Greg.

The AgriBusiness Group Managing Director, Jon Manhire says “We are looking forward to researching the possible pathways to market products produced following the Te Whenua Hou Te Whenua Whitiora trial. This could include the establishment of regenerative assurance programmes to be used more widely by New Zealand pastoral farmers and associated value chains.”

The first measurements for the trial begin in July 2023.

— Toitū te marae o Tāne, toitū te marae o Tangaroa, toitū te iwi – when land and water are sustained the people will prosper —



  • In August this year Ngāi Tahu Farming and Ngāi Tūāhuriri launched a ground-breaking regenerative farming trial aiming to validate the science of regenerative farming.
  • The seven-year research programme will compare side-by-side dairy farms to assess the environmental impacts of their practices. One 286-hectare farm will use regenerative farming practices while the adjacent 330-hectare farm will use conventional methods.
  • The study aims to demonstrate a viable alternative system that enhances soil health, has a lower environmental footprint, reduces water use, promotes kaimahi wellbeing, complements mātauranga Māori and is financially profitable.