Published Sep 4, 2017
The future of farming in New Zealand largely depends on lowering its environmental footprint while still maintaining profitable results for farmers. Managing nutrient losses has been a hot topic for debate over recent years, but in the midst of the public wrangling on this issue, one Victoria University of Wellington researcher has been quietly working with Ravensdown, a farmer-owned co-operative, to develop a tool that helps farmers work both sustainably and profitably.
Dr Bethanna (Beth) Jackson, Senior Lecturer in the School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences, originally developed the Land Utilisation and Capability Indicator (LUCI) tool for use in Wales in 2006, where she was working on land-use interventions to help mitigate flooding. Frustrated by the one-dimensional nature of the land management approaches she was working with, she used her background in applied mathematics and physics to start developing an alternative.
With LUCI operating successfully overseas, Beth and her research team began collaborating with Ravensdown in 2015 to see how the tool could be applied to New Zealand farms. The software that resulted from this co-development will be used by Ravensdown’s environmental advisors to help farmers identify ‘at-risk’ areas for nutrient loss, target them for mitigations and then map the effectiveness of those mitigations in reducing farm nutrient losses and improving freshwater quality.
Beth says that while too little fertiliser will impact on the growth and nutritional value of pasture, too much in the wrong place, or at the wrong time, can create an increased risk of nutrients being lost to fresh water which, among other ecological effects, might stimulate algal blooms that could damage aquatic life.
“Central government, iwi, regional councils and the entire agri-sector are all facing this challenge,” says Beth, “and Ravensdown is working very hard and in this space to find solutions. They are the perfect partner to help us develop this technology as they have the ability to take the benefits of LUCI into the ‘real world’ where the software can really make a difference to farming and the environment.”
Beth says that in some regions, where nutrient loss is especially problematic, many farmers and other community members are looking to take action as part of a collective group, ass waterways typically flow through or border multiple farms, these community groups are seeking to influence the water quality at catchment scale.
“As a tool in the hands of a trained professional, LUCI empowers these groups by showing them the potential consequences of possible actions across the catchment,” says Beth.
This successful co-development marks the beginning of a long-term relationship between Victoria University and Ravensdown, which Viclink is helping Beth and her team to formalise with a collaboration agreement over the next few months.
“What started out as a commercial partnership has also resulted in some great opportunities for Victoria’s students,” says Anne Barnett, Viclink’s General Manager, Commercialisation. “Ravensdown, together with support from Callaghan Innovation, has already funded one PhD and two Masters scholarships to date, which is just fantastic.”
Greg Campbell, Ravensdown’s CEO says Ravensdown believes, and is driving towards, a thriving, environmentally sustainable agri-sector will be built on partnerships that support its focus on sound science and smarter farming.
“By partnering with leading minds at science institutions such as Victoria University, we aim to reduce environmental impacts, increase production efficiency, build stronger rural communities and help the nation to prosper. The strength of our relationships and collaboration across academics, researchers, farmers and their advisors will be how we all win – enabling smarter farming for a better New Zealand.”