Wed, May 3, 2023 5:00 AM
Cyclone Gabrielle reminded Hawkes Bay farmer Greg Hart that community and regenerative farming systems will only become more important with time. "The key thing has been community. It’s when you have got people around you who can pick you up.” The heavy rains and wind in February caused some hillside erosion on his 600-hectare family farm south of Hastings. “There’s lots of fences to fix. The local bridge is out for trucks."
Hart will speak about his regenerative Mangarara Station at the Moutere Hills Community Centre in Upper Moutere, 6pm to 8pm on Thursday, May 25.
Regenerative farming can be broadly interpreted, but for Hart it is about putting life at the center of his decisions. “We’re talking about permaculture thinking and going a step beyond where most people are at.” Hart, who is from a conventional farming background, has been slowly transitioning his beef farm to a regenerative model that will better withstand extreme weather events.“I’m looking further down the track. We’re energy blind. Our growth has been based on a massive fossil-fuel subsidy. We change by disaster or design.” he says.
Hart started planting trees 20 years ago. Now, 120,000 trees in, he can enjoy a view across his land of pastures divided by rows and groupings of native bush and trees. “It’s more beautiful, and the insects and birds have given it more life,” he says. The trees are planted in a space that qualifies for the ETS and earning carbon credits. At current carbon price of around $60 this will treble the income earned from this area in the next 10 years, and the expectation is that it will have minimal, if any, detrimental effect on livestock production but it does provide shade and shelter and drought fodder as well as different minerals in the animals’ diet. This Silvopasture system also enhances nutrient cycling and increases biodiversity. About 85,000 of the native trees were funded by Air New Zealand, which would send its staff twice a year to help with planting at the station.
To recreate natural systems on Mangarara, Hart moves his cattle daily to mimic how herds used to roam across land. Ag Research is conducting studies on this “Holistic Planned Grazing” strategy to examine how the taller pastures, densely stocked animals and frequent rotation on Mangarara affects soil health and animal performance. This approach does mean more work for farmers, but studying the soil and seeing it improve is rewarding, Hart says. While Hart supplies beef products to buyers in New Zealand, he sees the value of supplying international market. “New Zealand could be trusted as a regenerative food producer worldwide,” he says.
The local bridge, weakened by Gabrielle, will be fixed eventually but for now it cannot bear the weight of trucks. This tipped Hart to decide to forgo applying fertilizer this year. The use of fertilizer has been a question for Hart because it is extracted in North Africa and is not sustainable long term. Hart also believes his tighter management systems around holistic planned grazing reduces the need for fertilizer inputs.
“We can see that the planet is suffering water issues and climate issues.” We can make a difference by building carbon in our soil and improving its water holding capacity. “You don’t have to believe in climate change to care about this.”
For farmers who are just starting on the regenerative path, Hart recommends connecting with other likeminded farmers looking to change course. It’s also important to design the changes you make so if it doesn’t go well, it can be an affordable fix, he says.
The eco lodge at Mangarara draws 1500 to 2000 tourists per year, and Hart is also planning a subdivision of nine or 10 sections to form a community around the land.
“The future I’m seeing is going to need a lot more people living on the land, getting closer to their food.”