How one farm is using soil health to mitigate climate change

Rural Exchange 21/04/2018

One could say that the 1500 acre hill country farm called Mangarara Station is somewhat out of the ordinary.

And no, it’s not just an organic farm.

Despite being a sizeable sheep and beef farm (and a small dairy operation to boot), Mangarara Station is transitioning to become a fully regenerative farm.

While regenerative agriculture is not entirely new, the practice has taken off across New Zealand in recent years in order to for farmers to take control of their carbon footprint.

The term defines farmers who apply a long-term environmental philosophy to farming practices.

Greg Hart, the owner of Mangarara, encourages farms to ditch any preconceptions that may arise when they hear trending terms like “regenerative” or “organic”.

Mr Hart and his family have been involved in the Sustainable Farming Fund since 2008, with their Hawke's Bay farm producing free range meat and eggs.

Mangarara Station (The Family Farm) includes an on-site Eco Lodge, a portable henhouse, and even offers short-term work for WWOOFers.

The Mangarara Eco Lodge. Photo: Facebook.

The farm’s 20-some dairy cows are not for commercial use, but rather to provide milk for the pigs and calves.

The milk also provides opportunities for the family to make their own cheese, butter and yoghurt.

Its portable henhouse, which gets shifted on a weekly basis, allows hens to naturally spread out cattle manure on top of contributing fresh manure themselves.

“One of the things we aim to do is increasing the biodiversity on our farm, whether that be the insects, the trees, the birds…”

The Family Farm. Photo: Facebook.

Mr Hart also aims at raising carbon levels in his soil, which he said “results in a whole lot healthier produce coming out of that soil”.

Soil health is a game-changer for Mr Hart’s initiative, which he believes is essential for both rebalancing the ecosystem and fighting climate change.

In fact, it’s even declared in Mangarara’s vision: “To balance relationships between nature and production agriculture as part of ecosystem restoration, including a focus on soil health, carbon sequestration and planting native and food producing trees.”

According to Future Farmers AU, many management practices that increase soil organic carbon can also improve crop and pasture yields.

The organisation lists the following for increasing soil carbon: reducing or eliminating tillage, improving crop and grazing management, maintaining and improving 
tree/forestry management, and adding organic materials such as composts and manures.

If more farmers and the Government focus on soil health, Mr Hart believes New Zealand has a better chance at absorbing its every-increasing carbon levels.

“It is the biggest opportunity we have to mitigate climate change,” he told RadioLIVE.

“As a consequence of that healthier soil, we’re also going to be producing cleaner water because soil is a natural filter for water.”

Watch the full interview with Greg Hart above.

Rural Exchange with Hamish McKay, Sarah Perriam and Richard Loe, 5-7am Saturday and Sunday on RadioLIVE with Carter’s Tyre Service. Click here for all the ways to watch and listen.