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    Research Report

    2003 Update

    Chapter One
    Chapter Two
    Chapter Three
    Chapter Four
    Chapter Five
    Chapter Six
    Chapter Seven
    Chapter Eight
    Chapter Nine
    Chapter Ten
    2003 Update 
    Foot Notes    


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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)   Get Acrobat Reader

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The Funding of this Report

Contributing Authors

Organic Research Review Project – Summary

The Soil System and Organic Soil Management

Dairy Pasture Management

Orchard Soil and Understorey Management

Research on Biodynamic Agriculture

Socio-Economic Research

A Farm Case-Study

Water Management

Research and Organic Institutions


1 Introduction

Aims and Target Audience

Key Issues


How to Use this Report and Search for Information



Soil Management

Dairy Pasture Management

Orchard Management

Research in Biodynamic Agriculture

Social and Economic Dynamics of Organic Agriculture

Organic Farm Case-Studies/Farm Comparisons


2 The Soil System: The Development and Functions of Soil

What is the Function of a Soil?

The Soil System and Agriculture

Soil Quality

Research Review

Soil Quality and Organic Soil Management




3 Organic Dairy Pasture Systems – A Review


Soils Under Pasture

Organic Pasture Systems



4 Organic Fruit Production in New Zealand – A Review of Understorey and Soil Management Literature


New Zealand Literature on Understorey and Soil Management

International Literature on Understorey and Soil Management

What Are the Gaps in Knowledge that Need to be Addressed in New Zealand?


5 Research in Biodynamic Agriculture


Research Approaches

Research Findings Relating to the Biodynamic Preparations

Recommendations for Further Research and Training


6 Research Review: Social and Economic Dynamics of
Organic Agriculture

Overview of Material Covered


Industry Development/Sociology

New Zealand Studies

Economic Performance

Grower Conversion

Factors Involved in the Decision to Become an Organic Grower


List of Useful Sites

7 Case-Study of New Zealand Dairy Farms in Transition


Present Case-Study

What was Measured?

Project Participants

Collection of Data

What did the Farm Measurements Tell Us?

Size of Dairy Herds and Stocking Rates

Milk (Based on Factory-collection Data)

Pasture Herbage Production

Animal Health and Performance

Soil Analyses

Climate Data

Discussion and Conclusions


8 Water

Water is What?

Water Cycle and Processes

Water Quantity

Land Use Effects



9 Overseas and International Research Institutes
Carrying Out Organic Research




United Kingdom


United States




Further Organic Contacts

10 Organic Organisations in New Zealand

The Soil and Health Association of New Zealand Incorporated

Bio Dynamic Farming and Gardening Association

Regional Group Contacts

National Office

Organic Products Exporters Group Inc (OPENZ)

Agriquality New Zealand Ltd

Bio-Gro New Zealand

Regional Groups

Canterbury Commercial Organic Group

Central Districts Organic Growers Group

Far North Organic Growers and Producers Association

Federated Farmers of New Zealand (Inc)

Gisborne/East Cape District Regional Group

Kapiti Horowhenua Organic Cluster Group

New Zealand Organic Kiwifruit Growers Association

Organic Apple Association

Organic Dairy Producers Group

Organic Growers Ltd.

Permaculture Institute of New Zealand

Southern Region Commercial Growers

Top of the South Organic Producers

Waikato Organic Producers Group

Wairarapa Organics


REPORT UPDATE AUGUST 2003 -as an Adobe Acrobat file (.pdf)


REPORT UPDATE AUGUST 2004 -as an Adobe Acrobat file (.pdf)

Get Acrobat Reader

Appendix 1: A Tabular Model of Ecological Succession of
the Autogenic, Autotrophic Type

Appendix 2: Paradigm Shift in Soil Science and Soil

Appendix 3: Composting and Maintenance of Soil Fertility
and Structure


Appendix 4: Books On Biodynamic Farming

A Practical Guide to the Biodynamic Preparations — by Ehrenfried Pfeiffer

Agriculture of Tomorrow — by Eugene and Lilly Kolisko

Books Bibliography

Appendix 5: Asian Contribution to Sustainable Land Management




The Funding of this Report

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


Organic Research Review Project – Summary

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:

  • over the last decade a strong scientific basis has been developed, building on the work of the pioneers of organic agriculture in the early part of the 20th century;
  • multi-disciplinary and whole-system research approaches that take account of regional, local and on-farm characteristics are required, over long time periods;
  • New Zealand organic farmers have mainly relied on knowledge gained from their own experience and trials;
  • involvement of organic producers is essential to ensure practical questions are addressed and to conduct credible organic systems research (particularly for participatory and observational approaches that are increasingly being used);
  • there are significant opportunities for advancement of knowledge and collaborative research in New Zealand, based on overseas experience;
  • increased knowledge of organic farming systems will not benefit the organic sector alone, but will also be of wider benefit to sustainable land management in New Zealand.

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:

The Soil System and Organic Soil Management

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.

Dairy Pasture Management

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.

Orchard Soil and Understorey Management

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.

Research on Biodynamic Agriculture

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.

Socio-Economic Research

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.

A Farm Case-Study

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 Management

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.

Research and Organic Institutions

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:

  • recognition of the ecological, holistic paradigm under which an organic system operates;

  • establishment of multi-disciplinary, holistic research approaches, which include the farms, the farmers and their environment (soil, landscape, climate, etc.) with the emphasis on:

  • long-term monitoring of agro-ecosystem parameters (soil-water-plant-animal) and their effects on organic systems;
  • understanding of the dynamics of soil and other agroecosystem interactions;
  • information from on-farm research in different regions of New Zealand;
  • working with farmers to address their research questions;
  • farmer involvement in the research (participatory methods);
  • development of a combination of analytical and new research methods; and
  • building on the research already done in New Zealand and overseas.

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:

  • a long-term research strategy;
  • a specialist organic team capable of working with new complementary approaches; and
  • a dedicated research centre that co-ordinates effort.

Some recommended specific research areas include:

  • effects of organic dairy farm management on soil quality, pasture composition and the wider environment; key pasture interactions, and management of pastures and animal health;
  • re-thinking of orchard systems in a holistic framework, through ecologically based research focused on understanding the dynamics of systems, and introducing greater ecological complexity into commercial systems;
  • integrated whole-farm analyses, of multiple dimensions, including the different social and economic facets of organic farming, over a lengthy time span;
  • farm comparisons using established methodologies that enable evaluation of the dietary and health effects of organic management on livestock performance and environmental and sociological consequences.
  • Return to top of Table of Contents

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