Te Rongoā Pastures: Healthy Animals, Resilient Farms

Project commenced:

Dr Marion Johnson is the Principal Investigator of Te Rongoā Pastures: Healthy Animals, Resilient Farms.

The Te Rongoā project identified a number of plant species that could be used on farms to promote animal health. The focus was on browse species that would contribute to biodiversity and pasture resilience. Grazing provides a large proportion of an animal’s intake and pasture is the major productive component on a farm and the research studied what rongoā species could be incorporated into pastures to make a useful contribution to animal health and productivity, while also describing how to manage and sustain the species on farms.

The project addressed the concerns raised by a number of land managers about how to protect the land but not take all areas that are erosion-prone out. It also looked at how to make pastures more resilient in the face of climate change, how to decrease nutrient run off, and how to raise healthier livestock.

The research contributes to the concept of using the principles of Te Rongoā to manage land and the pasture model now under discussion, is being developed with farming practitioners and staff at the Future Farming Unit to determine future feasibility. 

Project Achievements:

  1. Identifed conventional rongoā species that are suitable for incorporating into pasture mixes
  2. Literature reviewed to identify other palatable native species, including native grasses, that did not persist under intense grazing pressure but might contribute to animal health
  3. A theoretical pasture mix developed and presented to researchers and seed companies to consider viability and production

The project's research report is available here for download.  The rongoa pastures, healthy animals, resilient farms report is an introduction to the ideas and the rationale behind the development of mixed pastures that contain New Zealand native species. Agroecology, which is gaining acceptance worldwide as a regenerative method of farming suggests that pastures  should be developed and maintained with the minimum of external inputs, using local species that grow well on native soils and improved species that match the climate (Johnson, 2015). Evidence from Europe of the history, the desirability of mixed pastures and the effects on animal health is presented to support the argument for diversity in Aotearoa New Zealand. As a starting point to develop pasture mixes that include native species,  herbs and grasses  which have some reputation as rongoa rākau in human traditional medicine have been proposed as have species that were preferentially eaten  when stock were first introduced into Aotearoa New Zealand. 

Research Lead(s) and Team

A former shepherd and farm manager, Dr Marion Johnson combines academic science and research with practical and traditional farm knowledge. Now a Senior Scientist at The Future Farming Centre, Lincoln. Dr Johnson holds degrees in Agricultural Science, Environmental Biology and Veterinary Parasitology.

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