Hill Country Project

Effects of hill country paddock management on water, soil and pasture quality in the Horizons district

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What is the purpose of the project

The aim of our project is to bring people and science together to understand practices that result in healthy soils, plants, water, animals, people and finances on hill country farms. We are all connected through the food we eat, places we work and play, waterways and local businesses. Sustainably productive hill country and clean healthy water benefits everyone in our region.

Every day farmers make decisions about how they will manage their pastoral land from grazing days to fertiliser applications, grass grub control, aerial cropping, subdivision, spraying and sowing new pastures. We aim to investigate how these and other management practices and any changes in management impact on soil quality, pasture composition and production and water quality as it leaves the paddock runoff area. Some of the practices may be considered to be along the lines of regenerate agriculture so this will give us an opportunity to investigate whether regenerative agriculture principles can be applied to hill country in our region and what the benefits might be. Climate has the biggest impact on the land, so we also want to investigate this. The project is designed to run over 5 years with seasonal sampling so we can also investigate factors that might improve climate resilience on our hill country.

Most importantly we want to share the learning as we go by holding many field days and workshops and inviting participation in project planning and in hands-on sample collection and observations. We also want to collaborate closely with other projects past and present, especially those associated with hill country management in our region. For example, we have many catchment groups in the region and these groups are working on various projects. Councils are measuring the impacts of environmental protection works that have been done over the years, other groups are working on local environmental projects and there is a plethora of previous scientific research on hill country production that we should not forget about. Bringing this work together in a practical way is one of our goals.

This is an inclusive project involving farmers, rural professionals, regional council and community interest groups and the general public. We encourage you to have a say and get involved.


Who is running the project?

This project is a collaborative effort with the following organisations involved in project governance and in contributing to the science and extension programme.

  • ACRE

  • Rangitikei Catchment group

  • Manawatu Catchment group

  • Horizons Regional Council

  • Landcare Trust

  • Deer industry New Zealand

  • Fish and Game NZ

  • Massey University

  • Environment Network Manawatu

Project management including co-ordinating all of the above organisations is being done by BASE Enterprises

Principle Project Manager: Pania Flint

This list of project partners and their roles is currently under development. Check back here for updates or if you or your organisation would like to get involved please get in touch


What data will be collected?

The final project design will be based on input from interested parties and how we can integrate our project to compliment other work being done.

The unit of study is the paddock (see criteria below). At this stage we are looking at including 20 study sites from a range of farms, environments and terrains.

As a starting point we anticipate recording input variables that include ALL management practices on a paddock.

The outcomes measurements that we aim to collect include:

  • Soil visual, physical, biological and chemical analysis

  • Pasture growth, composition and chemical analysis,

  • Water quality using stream health assessment, Schmak testing and chemical analysis.

  • In addition we anticipate collecting some farm financial information and animal health and production where it can be related back to the paddock.


This type of research is only worthwhile if the results are turned into actions through increased knowledge, confidence and positive changes in practice. To assess this we will also investigate changes made by participants as a results of taking part in the project as either experimental farms, local farmers, rural professionals, advisors or members of the public.

It is likely that collaborating projects will collect additional and more specific data from some sites


Who will benefit from the project?

The benefits are potentially far-reaching:

For farmers participating directly in the study they will have a large amount of data specific to their farm that will give them a really good insight into the health and productivity of their farm under certain management conditions. It will also allow the farmer to track the results of changes in management and compare to other farms in the project. Study site participants are likely to experience the greatest direct benefits.

For other farmers in the region: attending regular workshops and seeing the results on farms similar to theirs under everyday management practices will give them the confidence to take their own measurements and make management decisions to suit their land and their farming objectives.

For council and land management advisors, attending workshops and encouraging other farmers to do the same will help with better advice to farmers on best practice land management for both the environment and productivity


For anyone connected with the waterways: This project can guide on practices that help maintain water quality as it comes off pastoral hill country.

For rural support people and lending agencies : Protecting the investment in land and agriculture by identifying practices that improve production and environmental resilience will give better confidence in the financial sustainability of hill country farming


For fertiliser consultants and agronomists: This study may give further research evidence to guide your advise to farmers for nutrient and pasture management.

For the local economy: More productive and  resilient farms will generate better returns to farmers who can in-turn invest this back into the local economy.

For the hill country farmers: Demonstrating good management practices that care for the land can provide evidence to the government that hill country farmers are good land stewards who work to care for the environment while maintaining or improving productivity.

For other groups researching in this space: These results can be used to support their research and vice versa.


What is the timeframe?

The timeframe is up for discussion. At this stage we are looking at a 5 year project with the first 6 months involving community consultation and fine-tuning the study design with input from interested parties. The plan is to have 6-monthly workshops throughout the 5 year study. Check back here later for updates on time frame.


How will the project be funded?


An application for funding will be submitted to MPI’s Sustainable Farming and Fibre Futures fund. Co-funding is required in order to receive MPI funding. Some of this can be in-kind contributions and a significant amount of cash will also be required. We are calling for expressions of interest to co-fund this project. Funders will be emailed updates and be invited to attend field days and workshops during the event. Funders will also be given the opportunity to present at workshops. Funders will not have rights to veto any results from being published or cause any bias in experimental design.


Study Site Criteria

The unit of study is a paddock. To be included the paddock must:

  • Be grazed by livestock

  • Be at least 1ha in size

  • Have an average slope of 15 degrees

  • Have an associated waterway

  • Be more or less securely fenced

  • Be accessible for the research team

There may be other collaborating projects that farmers are interested in participating in


What does a study site farmer have to do?


As the farm owner or manager you will need to keep a record of all the management practices on the study paddock.

This will include, but is not limited to:

  • All stock movements on and off the paddock including class of stock, number of head and estimated weight.

  • Pre and post grazing pasture height

  • All inputs including fertiliser, sprays, seed

  • Any cropping, cutting for hay or any other aspects of this paddock that may affect the outcome.


You will not have to collect any samples. Sampling will all be done by the research team. You will need to allow them access to the paddock to take samples at least 4 times per year. This will be done at a time that suits you so that it does not disrupt normal farming practices.


We will provide you with a whiteboard for the paddock gate and/or a journal for keeping records and/or a phone app for recording paddock information.


How can I find out the results?


As there are no commercial sensitivities involved in this project and it will be publicly funded, all results will be readily available as they come to hand. We will load pages on this website and anyone who sponsors the project will receive email updates and invitations to attend field days and workshops where results will be discussed.

The project includes a number of field days where anyone can visit study sites and take part in soil, water and plant assessment. Information will also be presented at a stand at local events.

What is the results show something bad?


We all want the same outcomes - sustainably productive land. If the results show up some issues then that will inform us of where to focus our attention for improvement. Decisions will be informed by science. We are going into this with an open mind and no preconceived ideals. As this is a publicly funded project without commercial interest, there is no bias to show any particular effects of management practices on outcomes.

How is this project different from what is already being done?

There are a number of aspects that make this project unique. 


Strong community input: Right from the outset, we have engaged with many different groups in the community to understand their values and consider these in the study design. We intend to engage with these groups throughout the project and be adaptable to changing needs and interests of the people.  Everyone has ownership and a chance to play a part in the future management of hill country farms. We are all learning together and will do this using a range of different engagement strategies including field days, workshops, online material, presentations at conferences and information stands.


Bringing other research together: As we progress through the programme we aim to bring in the resaerchers that are working on complimentary or more specific projects and relate these to the practical application on a complex farm system.


A long term multivariable study at the paddock level. To our knowledge, there are no current studies that are gathering a wide range of data on all aspects of management, climate and soil, pasture and water quality over a long time-scale under normal farm management practices. This allows a real-life view of what happens on commercial farms and provides a large amount of data to investigate associations between different variables. For example the impacts of grazing management on water runoff. The the relationship between soil organic matter and nutrient retention or loss to waterways. We can draw on the scientific resaerch from other groups to further understand our observations.