A project facilitated by the Research and Development Group of the Bio Dynamic Farming and Gardening Association
An Adobe Acrobat file (.pdf) of the complete and original report is available Here (595 KB)
An Adobe Acrobat file (.pdf) of the 2004 updated report is available Here (936 KB)
Organic Research Review Project – Summary
The production of this report and catalogue has been supported through funding by the Ministry for the Environment’s Sustainable Management Fund, Dexcel (previously the Dairy Research Corporation), and the Tindall Foundation.
Section 6 – Case-Study of New Zealand Dairy Farms in Transition describes a project funded by the Pacific Development Trust .
We would particularly like to acknowledge and thank the funding organizations; the assistance provided by the Louis Bolk Institute (The Netherlands); all the contributors who put in more time and effort than remunerated for, the financial management assistance and editorial advice given by David Wright, the Executive Secretary of the Bio Dynamic Farming and Gardening Association; the assistance with formatting by Denise Taylor, and editing assistance by Editext, Massey University.
This publication is supported by the Sustainable Management Fund and as such the Ministry for the Environment does not endorse or support the content of this publication in any way.
A report and catalogue prepared with funding from the Ministry for the Environment’s Sustainable Management Fund (No. 2191), Dexcel and the Tindall Foundation
Frank van Steensel MSc Eco-Agri-Logic
Phillipa Nicholas PhD Dexcel
Hella Bauer-Eden MSc Independent research
Gavin Kenny PhD Earthwise Consulting
Hugh Campbell PhD University of Otago
Margaret Ritchie MSc University of Otago
A. Neil Macgregor PhD Massey University
Marion Koppenol Bio Dynamic Association
Gary Blake MSc Bio Dynamic Association
Peter Bacchus Bio Dynamic Association
Project leader and main editor: Gill Cole BSc, Bio Dynamic Association
Research manager: Frank van Steensel MSc, Bio Dynamic Association
Evaluation manager: Gareth Bodle, Bio Dynamic Association
Other contributors: Brendon Hoare
Artistic design: Chris Elliot
Until the mid-1980s organic agriculture struggled to gain scientific credibility in New Zealand and elsewhere in the world. Internationally, the situation has changed dramatically since then. The International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) has developed into a highly credible organisation and one that has been instrumental in setting minimum standards for organic practices and products. There are now many research institutes dedicated to organic research, particularly in Western Europe, that are funded by individual governments or the European Union and work collaboratively with traditional research agencies. The biennial IFOAM conferences increasingly highlight the multidisciplinary character of organic research, encompassing areas as diverse as soil ecology, economics and sustainable development. Many New Zealand farmers and orchardists are attracted to organic methods but seek the backing of scientific research. It is becoming evident that organic1 agriculture requires comprehensive research.
This research review report and catalogue were compiled to provide scientists, policy makers, funding agencies and farmers with information on the current state of organic farming systems research and research methodology, focused around organic soil management. The report provides lists of research institutions and websites that specialize in organic systems research, as well as references to relevant books and research articles. Much of the material is drawn from overseas sources. Where relevant, findings from New Zealand research are provided. This serves to highlight some important points in relation to organic systems research:
Given the significant developments in organic research taking place overseas, it is becoming evident that similar capabilities are required in New Zealand. Some overseas research is applicable in New Zealand, but because organic farming systems often reflect the unique character of the producers and their farm environments, local and regional research is essential to increasing the New Zealand knowledge base. However, the adoption of new research methodologies (as in use by the organic research centres discussed) can contribute significantly to closing the knowledge and experience gap. Early organic research was often focused on comparative trials, using conventional experimental plot design and statistical techniques. Unfortunately, such approaches often required the exclusion of multiple variables that actually determine the viability and vitality of organic farming systems. Quantitative science has an important place, but equally important to research on organic farming systems are more qualitative approaches. This stems from an understanding that organic agriculture is both a technology and a process.
The following is a summary of the various sections of the report:
Soil quality, landscape quality, soil biota, nutrient cycling and biodiversity are integral aspects of sustainable development. The report discusses research findings that show how they become functional in organic farming systems. Recognition of the uniqueness and diversity of soils and in soil provides opportunities for greater diversity at the regional or farm scale, since different soils have different suitable uses. A holistic, ecological approach is required for future research on soil-plant-animal systems in New Zealand. This will enable redesign of farming systems from an over-emphasis on production (developmental phase) towards more quality and internal regulation (mature phase). This will result in less mineral losses, less pest and disease pressure and less susceptibility to climate extremes, thus contributing to sustainable land management on farm and regional scale.
There is limited specific international literature on organic dairy pasture systems and little that is of direct relevance to New Zealand’s unique pasture-based style of dairy farming. However, some information is available on pasture composition, use of leys, pasture and grazing management, pest and disease management, weed management, and animal health and management. A number of key research gaps are identified that principally focus on knowledge relating to the process of conversion, management issues and environmental effects and benefits. Established organic dairy farmers have independently addressed many of these gaps, but the knowledge and experience gained is largely undocumented.
There has been a limited amount of organic understorey management research in New Zealand of relevance to orchard systems. Complementary to this New Zealand research is the substantive work conducted at the Louis Bolk Institute in the Netherlands. A key feature is a focus on optimal management of nutrient flows in the orchard soil system, which impacts on tree and fruit health and quality. Very little work has been done in this area, e.g., on net mineralisation under different management conditions, and is required under New Zealand conditions for different production systems and regions. Aside from work on apples, there is little relevant overseas research on which to draw. A greater emphasis on holistic, orchard system research is required.
Biodynamic agriculture is based on organic principles, the uniqueness of each farm and farmer, and the use of the biodynamic preparations. This review gives a brief background to the development of biodynamic agriculture and associated research and the development of complementary research methods. An overview of research on the biodynamic preparations is provided. The use of pictorial imaging methods as quality control and diagnostic tools, other complementary research methods, long-term trials and farmer participatory research are reviewed and recommended for research in New Zealand.
Research on organic sector development, economic performance, grower decision-making and conversion, market analysis, labour, and public health issues is reviewed. Integrated whole-farm analyses, of multiple dimensions, including economic evaluation over a lengthy time span, are needed to evaluate of New Zealand organic agriculture.
This case study is included as a good example of a holistic research method. The setting-up, data collection and analysis for the first year of a holistic study of two paired organic conversion and conventional dairy farms are discussed. Pasture production and animal health, as well as soil parameters, were measured. No data are presented, as lack of funding prevented meaningful continuation of field data collection.
Water is an essential component of every farming system. The earth’s water cycle and the role of forests and bush areas in maintaining the quality and quantity of water supplies for farming and society as a whole are discussed, as well as research in relation to irrigation and water quality management relevant to dairying and orcharding in general.
Lists and descriptions of overseas institutions carrying out organic farming research, as well as New Zealand organic farming organizations, are included.
For the development of sustainable, viable organic farming in New Zealand, we recommend:
To build up the expertise and capacity to implement these recommendations and build a solid framework of scientific knowledge on which the organic farming sector can operate efficiently we recommend:
Some recommended specific research areas include:
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