The Country, NZ Herald, Rere ki uta rere Ki Tai Farming Research Project Focuses on Soil

As many farmers, growers and communities carry the weight of catastrophic weather events in January and Cyclone Gabrielle in February, an important question emerges.

How we can assist farmers in their essential work to feed us, while honouring Papatūānuku (Mother Earth) through land use that does not leave the whenua, and therefore ourselves, vulnerable?

In farms across the Waikato and Bay of Plenty, people on the land are part of a research trial as they reconnect with a living entity – oneone (soil) – that humanity cannot survive without.

The name Rere ki Uta, Rere ki Tai is literally “From Sea to Soil to Society” and the journey of these 10 farms is being captured as they embrace farming systems that honour the mana and mauri of soil.

This work is one of three projects with the Revitalise Te Taiao research programme funded by Our Land and Water.

Underpinned by Te Tiriti o Waitangi, the Revitalise Te Taiao research has been working in three locations alongside agribusinesses and communities as they progress land-use change to revitalise te Taiao (the land, water, climate, and biodiversity that contains and surrounds us all).

“We are all talking about the same thing but we arrive with a different history, with a different set of perspectives, and consequently we arrive with a different set of values,” Murray Hemi explained in the video “Te Tiriti model, Taiao Manawa Ora: Purpose-led Change”.

Rere ki Uta, Rere ki Tai – is hosted by AgriSea New Zealand Ltd, a Māori-owned seaweed innovation company with a focus on soil, animal, plant and community health for the primary industry for 26 years.

Watch Murray Hemi in “Te Tiriti model, Taiao Manawa Ora: Purpose-led Change” below:

It brings together a team of experts in Western Science and Mātauranga Maori (Māori knowledge), learning alongside the 10 farms on the trial.

It requires the ability to listen with an open heart and to respect the connection to place that each participant brings, regardless of culture.

There is tikanga to be followed and respected. This gives us the gift of insight from worldviews that some of us have not come from ourselves.

It is an exceptional opportunity at this time in humanity.

“The Mana and Mauri of the oneone is the foundation of this kaupapa but also an important part of all living organisms,” kaumatua and cultural advisor for Rere ki Uta, Rere ki Tai, Taonui Campbell explained.

“Oneone is part of the cycle of life.

“We have a saying, Te Mana te Tapu me te Mauri o te oneone, which means The prestige, the sacredness and the life force of the soil.

“We are all on a journey of discovery on different levels, sharing what we understand to be the Whakapapa of the oneone and the connections and treasures that oneone has, such as its connection to Wai, to ngā Atua, Tāne and more,” Campbell said.

“We are fortunate to have the opportunity to be one of the groups exploring mātauranga Māori and western science together, and this is a Kaupapa, a goal that many organisations around the country are trying to achieve.”

\"Warrick Warrick and Jos Davey are among the farmers in the Rere ki Uta Rere ki Tai trial on the Hauraki Plains. Photo / Alison Smith

In the Rere ki uta Rere ki Tai worldview, soil is valued beyond its “use”. It is acknowledged for the living, interconnected entity that it is, and how we can enhance our reciprocal relationship with soil for better outcomes.

The 10 farms (pāmu) are a mix of conventional and organic dairy farms, farms under iwi and private Māori and pākehā ownership, new farms and intergenerational farms, and farms supplying Fonterra, Synlait and Miraka.

Each farm has its own unique whakapapa, history, values, and Taiao (environment).

As individual farm plans are trialled, the health of the soil, waterways on farms, economics and the wellbeing of farmers themselves are monitored over two years, until May 2024.

Methods to improve soil health might include sewing a more diverse pasture crop, reducing synthetic fertiliser inputs, retiring steep land, sharing knowledge between farmers and scientists and learning about the tangata whenua connection and Te Ao Māori (Maori worldview).

In conjunction with fertiliser use, some parts of farms will receive biostimulants such as those produced by AgriSea, which help activate soil microorganisms – or the underground livestock located in soil.

\"\" The Davey Bros. farm is among those taking part in the Rere ki Uta, Rere ki Tai trial on historically drained lands on the Hauraki Plains. Pictured are Annie and Will Davey. Photo / Davey family

Expertise from farmers and their whānau is respected, acknowledged and captured in this two-way conversation with leading thinkers in livestock health, farm profitability, soil science and social science.

Lincoln University Professor Pablo Gregorini is among those supporting the work.

In a keynote address to the 73rd Annual Meeting of the European Federation of Animal Science (EAAP), he said a paradigm shift was needed to create a more ethical, sustainable pastoral production system.

Dr Christine Jones is another, brought over by AgriSea to share her knowledge with New Zealand farmers and kaitiaki.

She said the need for soil restoration had never been more pressing.

Respecting that all knowledge starts as local knowledge, solutions will be tailored to fit the local context of production, economy, community, and environment.

The farms (pāmu) taking part are; The Whey, Tauke Limited, Rout Dairies, Stanfred Farm, Willith Farm, Tainui Group Holdings, Opepe Farm, Scylla Farm, Netherdale Farms, Tatai Whetu Farm, and Maavic Farm.

Find out more about Rere ki Uta, Rere ki Tai on Our Land and Water’s website here.

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