Agriculture Research Group on Sustainability (ARGOS): Pathways to sustainability in primary production – environment
Principal investigator: Professor Henrik Moller
Staff involved: Grant Blackwell, Mark Haggerty, Tanja Maegli
The ARGOS environment research team began by baseline habitat surveying and mapping using GIS and checking for threatened species (none were found). Emphasis then shifted to developing and trialling cost-effective methods for monitoring the abundance and diversity of soil biota, stream invertebrates and fish communities, birds and plants and weeds within paddocks and shelterbelts and hedges. A minimum suite of focal species and environmental indicators has now been monitored every 1-3 years to work towards eventual measurement of long-term trends across all 105 participating farms (reliable detection of trends will take another 6 years at least).
We have invested most in biennial soil monitoring because biophysical and especially biological properties of the soil are predicted to be key determinants of production and to be different between organic and other farming methods. We regularly monitor stream health and measure associated riparian vegetation and stock management. Distance modelling techniques are used to measure the abundance and diversity of birds. See parallel contract description (immediately above) for the social objective for a more detailed description of the ARGOS sampling framework and rationale.
Having established longitudinal monitoring frameworks, more detailed studies of (a) key ecological processes and seasonal dynamics of biodiversity, and (b) statistical associations between biodiversity indicators and the wider suite of farm management inputs (eg. pesticides, intensity of production, 'Organic' cf.'Integrated Management' cf. 'Conventional' farming, social indicators, economic return). This will increasingly step the environmental research to answering questions about why various environmental outcomes occur and links to farming practice. The latter is the key to recommending policy and practice to facilitate more environmentally sustainable food and fibre production to improve New Zealand land care, rural community wellbeing and economic returns through securing market access and premium prices for our products.
Our environmental research team has also triggered bigger-picture debate about agricultural intensification, that intensification's impacts on biodiversity and asserted a general need to build a land ethic and active conservation management focus on the "forgotten 60%" - the production landscapes outside of preservation reserves. The project had co-funding from Zespri, Canterbury Meat Packers Ltd., Waitrose, Merino Inc., Meat & Wool New Zealand, Sustainable farming Fund (MAF), Ngai Tahu, Certified Organic Kiwifruit Growers Assoc., Fonterra.
The Bridge of Employment scheme enabled us to appoint Dr. Grant Blackwell as a Postdoctoral Fellow to be employed 50% FTE on the Kia Mau te Titi mo Ake Tonu Atu and 50% for the ARGOS Environment research team.