Click to watch video: In part 4 of our video series, The Way Forward, Rod Oram looks at big new ideas that can lead our response to climate change and improve sustainability.

Agriculture generates half New Zealand’s greenhouse gases, but the sector is still moving very slowly and reluctantly towards cutting them. Most mainstream farmers argue they don’t yet have the technology to do more, and any effort by the Government to prompt faster action would only reduce their profitability.

But behind those negative headlines and lobbying, more encouraging stories are unfolding. Synlait Milk, Silver Fern Farms and Pāmu are examples of major agribusinesses and farmers setting themselves demanding climate goals which they’re beginning to achieve.

They are building a range of techniques, some established and others new, to help them make their farmers’ operations more climate compatible.

This episode of The Way Forward explores just one of those techniques, regenerative agriculture. It’s a pivotal one, though, because its exponents are already proving they are making their farming ecosystems healthier and more resilient to the pressures the changing climate is putting on our farming sector. As yet, animal emission reductions are only minor within the wider benefits of regenerative farming. But as the techniques develop, there is potential for larger reductions.

We visit Simon Osborne, a fourth-generation farmer on land his family began farming outside Leeston, Canterbury, in 1864. A cropping and sheep farmer, he’s spent the past couple of decades learning which crops and farming techniques work best to enhance the organic content of the soils, which in turn has improved their resilience in the face of the changing climate.

We also visit Rhys Roberts at Align Clareview farm at Westerfield, 25 km inland from Ashburton. Kiri, his wife, is the farm manager, and he’s the chief executive of the Align Farms Group, founded in 2012 by investors John Buchanan and Rob Cameron.

Clareview, the largest of the group’s six farms, is running a side-by-side trial: conventional techniques are used on one half of the farm and its herd; and regenerative techniques on the other half. Milk from the farm goes to Align’s manufacturing plant in Leeston which produces yoghurt under the group’s Cyclops retail brand.

And we go to the Lincoln campus of Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research to learn more about the bigger picture of regenerative agriculture from Dr Gwen Grelet, a senior researcher in land use and ecosystems.

The ranks of regenerative farmers are growing steadily around the country, typically through groups of farmers learning together. Calm the Farm is an example of one such group.