Scientist challenges ruling

Lincoln University science professor Jon Hickford has taken umbrage with the New Zealand Media Council.

In Business6 Minutes

LINCOLN UNIVERSITY SCIENCE professor Jon Hickford has taken umbrage with the New Zealand Media Council.

Hickford wrote to the NZMC following a ruling against a story in Country-Wide about the Regenerative Agriculture White Paper, in which he had expressed his views.

He felt those views had been misrepresented by the NZMC.

In the story, Hickford commented he would have hoped the White Paper authors had taken greater care to ensure the credibility of what was released under Landcare Research’s name.

The lead author of the paper titled, Regenerative Agriculture in Aotearoa New Zealand – Research Pathways to Build Science-Based Evidence and National Narratives, was Dr Gwen Grelet, a senior researcher at Landcare Research.

Hickford also confirmed in the story some of the authors of the White Paper had been contracted in, and questioned the reason for this.

Hickford put forward an alternative suggestion to the adoption of Regenerative Agriculture. He said NZ should develop its own brand of agriculture and did not need to follow the regenerative agriculture fad, or the next fad which came along.

A simple concept of healthy water, healthy land, healthy food and healthy people was really good and there should be formal recognition for what farmers did.

He felt a collaborative discussion about how we best manage land, to make the most effective use of it was needed.

Hickford’s letter to the NZMC was discussed at the October Media Council meeting.

The council responded to Hickford’s letter by saying – The Council does not normally engage with someone who is not a party to the complaint. Our mandate is to deal with the complainants and editors. But given the detailed nature of your correspondence it was fully considered. The Council discussed at length the points you raised and reviewed the material.

It came to the same conclusions, and stands by its decision and the reasons given.

Hickford took exception to his views being dismissed.

“I am disappointed in this response and not least because my opinions have been publicly misrepresented by the NZMC,” Hickford said.

Ag minister poorly briefed

SCIENTISTS ARE CONCERNED THAT proven soil research has been dismissed.

They are also concerned no one has checked to see if the scientific research has already been done.

The concern was raised after Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor commented that the emphasis regenerative agriculture placed on the importance of soil health was a new focus for agriculture.

Scientist Dr Doug Edmeades said the minister had been poorly briefed by his advisers and he would gently remind him the study of soil health was not new.

“The current interest in soil quality and health in New Zealand soils is not as new as he and the RA enthusiasts think, and that the biological activity in our soils is second to none,” Edmeades said.

Twenty years ago, a group of about 20 NZ soil scientists were challenged to develop a robust definition of soil health and quality. The scientists came up with seven soil tests which could be used collectively to define soil health and quality.

Soil quality depended on what the soil was to be used for and was the soil fit for the purpose intended. Therefore, functionally defined. The seven tests were regarded as the minimum set for the major soil uses in NZ.

The tests developed into soil quality indicators (SQI). These SQIs were used in national surveys conducted between 2014 and 2017 by regional councils. The results were instructive.

The practical conclusion was the biology of soils was good, but there needed to be more accuracy in the way fertiliser P was recommended. Over-cropping and running high stocking rates on vulnerable soils needed to be avoided.

Dr Robert McBride, who holds a PhD in soil science from North Carolina State University, has made his past decade of soil science research in NZ easier to access. Since 2010, McBride has visited more than 500 farms gathering information about soil fertility and advising farmers. He has summarised this information and published the paper in The Journal NZIPIM, December 2020.

O’Connor made the remark in a response to a letter written to him by plant science academics Dr Derrick Moot and Dr Warwick Scott. They called for the establishment of an expert panel of scientists to review claims made about regenerative agriculture.