Align Farms CEO Rhys Roberts on Government’s regenerative farming project

10 August 2022, NZ Herald – The Country

While chief executive of Align Farms Rhys Roberts has reservations about the Government’s new regenerative agriculture project, he welcomes another voice on the subject.

Ngāi Tahu and the Government are undertaking a seven-year research programme to validate the science of regenerative farming.

The trial will compare a conventional and regenerative farm side-by-side to assess the environmental impacts of their practices.

Roberts, who is also the 2022 Zanda McDonald Award winner, has been running a similar trial at Align Farms for years.

“We’ve been on this journey for some time … although it’s good to have a partner in crime, so to speak, in the regenerative space,” he told The Country’s Jamie Mackay.

However, he was bemused that both trials were taking place in Canterbury.

“It’s still a little bit strange to see why there needs to be two in Canterbury – there’s plenty of cows throughout New Zealand – maybe the Waikato would’ve been a better option.”

Like the Government project, Align Farms looked into the financial, environmental, animal health, milk quality and social impacts of both regenerative and conventional farming, Roberts said.

The main difference was that Align Farms’ trial took place on one farm, rather than two.

“We do it on one farm but we split that farm in half so there’s two herds, two milk vats, two P and Ls [profit and loss statements] and that data is compared.”

He could see the pros and cons of both methods.

“[In our trial] you don’t get the differences in management or differences in soil types or farm history.

“However, from an operational perspective, it’s probably easier to do it on two farms so you have someone completely focused on one system.”

Overall, the Government programme will cost $11.58 million, with the Ministry for Primary Industries’ Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund contributing $8 million and Ngāi Tahu Farming and Ngāi Tūāhuriri fronting the rest.

Align Farms was owned by the Buchanan family of Central Otago and was “funded internally through profits,” Roberts said.

“It’s certainly not going to cost us $11.5 million; it probably won’t cost us 10 per cent of that to be fair.”