New Zealand Dairy Farmers Reaping Benefits from Regenerative Agriculture

23rd May 2024

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Following SAI Platform’s Regenerating Together global framework, dairy farmers across New Zealand are demonstrating improved water quality by implementing regenerative agriculture practices.

Regional context and farming systems vary globally. A key component of SAI Platform’s Regenerating Together global framework for regenerative agriculture is that it can be tailored to local contexts to drive action on the ground. Already, SAI Platform members are adopting the framework to guide their regenerative agriculture journeys and showcasing their findings. These case studies offer practical guidance and inspiration across the agri-food industry by showcasing regenerative agriculture in practice across a variety of production systems and geographies.

In a recently released case study, Fonterra’s farmers demonstrate some of the benefits of adopting regenerative agriculture practices in New Zealand. Fonterra is an Aotearoa based dairy co-operative owned by thousands of farming families. Charlotte van der Lee, Sustainability Manager at Fonterra, shares her experience of using the Regenerating Together framework to guide Fonterra’s regenerative agriculture journey.

What makes SAI Platform’s Regenerating Together programme a great fit to support Fonterra in your transition to regenerative agriculture?

Charlotte van der Lee: SAI Platform’s Regenerating Together programme has provided Fonterra with a globally recognised framework for recognising and celebrating our current position, as well as assessing future opportunities for improvement, starting with the first step of identifying our specific context.

Fonterra’s New Zealand farmers are rooted in grass-fed, pasture-based practices, with a continued focus on improving the health and well-being of our animals, waterways, and soils. The framework has supported us in pinpointing and addressing improvement areas within this unique context and integrating data from our farmer suppliers to credibly share their progress. There’s been a lot of work already in this space, prioritising water quality and providing increased support and tools to our farmers. Sustainability Dairy Advisors have been assigned to assist farmers in developing Farm Environment Plans to support our focus on continuous improvement.

We’ve also identified other impact areas through the framework and are dedicated to aiding our farmers in the drive for continuous improvement by offering expertise, tools, guidance, and measurement and monitoring capabilities. A key focus for Fonterra is to maintain the health of our soils and animal well-being, while making increasing improvements to the biodiversity of our land and pastures. The Regenerating Together programme will support us in achieving positive climate outcomes in a way that is economically viable and supports the farming communities who are at the heart of this journey. 

As a dairy co-operative, how important are alignment and collaboration across the industry when it comes to a definition and framework for regenerative agriculture?

Charlotte van der Lee: Regenerative agriculture is not a new concept, but many would agree it has had a history of varied definitions with confusion about what it is and what it isn’t within the agricultural industry and beyond. When establishing Fonterra’s position on regenerative agriculture, it was vital to align with a globally recognised definition and framework. Given the reach SAI Platform has amongst key dairy stakeholders, it was fitting to use their approach as guidance for own position.

Alignment across industry will foster collaboration, allow for fair comparisons, and ensure consistency in measurement, while also highlighting the distinctiveness of different farming contexts and systems. By following a clear reporting method, it also allows us to focus on how to best support our farmers in making improvements, rather than solely focusing on reporting.

We will continue to identify areas for improvement by capitalising on the collaborative and learning opportunities provided by SAI Platform and its members, a critical step in enhancing the ecosystem where our farmers operate.

For more on Fonterra’s Regenerative Agriculture position please see our NZMP Regenerative Agriculture webpage, and the Fonterra Regenerative Agriculture E-publication.