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Opportunities for NZ farming and food production

Looking forward: the Otago Field Days president, Paul Mutch, in Princes St in Dunedin

New Zealand has the opportunity to shine as the world addresses farming and food waste, the Otago Field Days president, Paul Mutch says.

The retired Otago farmer and former chairman of the Worldwide Agriculture Forum says the world is producing twice as much food as it consumes, yet some are eating too much and many don’t have enough.

He says the main reasons include commercially-produced food lacking nutritional integrity. Also when people view food as a commodity, they accept collateral waste and so food continues to be wasted.

As possible solutions, the regenerative farming and healthy food movements are both growing. Paul also points to New Zealand’s renewed focus on Matariki, the Māori New Year celebrations, which include harvest thanksgiving. Māori culturally take a spiritual approach to the land.

“This is our opportunity in New Zealand now to shine,” Paul says.

Regarding food production, he considers that spiritual values and reverence towards food and the land can combine with science. These can sit alongside developing digital technologies and critical analysis.

“When you make a meal, you make it out of love,” he says, as an everyday example of science melding with emotions.

Leading the way

Paul’s was inspired to tackle international food waste during the Otago Field Days’ Speaker Series. He thinks it is an area where New Zealand could lead the way.

The enthusiastic agriculturalist has sat on a 30-foot combine harvester in the US Midwest, helped harvest lucerne with a sickle alongside Arab women in Morocco and spent hours on a tractor at his former East Otago property.

From these experiences together with academic research, he concludes that food supply isn’t only about environments.

Some can produce food in the most hostile conditions and some go bankrupt on the best land in the world.”


Paul views regenerative farming as one pathway forward. He says in essence this approach means a greater degree of biodiversity and greater biomass.

According to the Sustainable America website, regenerative agricultural practices focus on the health of the ecological system as a whole, not only on high-production yields of crops.

Events flourishing

Regenerative Farming was the topic at the Palmerston and Waihemo A & P Association’s first Speaker Series, held last year in Palmerston, East Otago.

The series itself is part of a rejuvenation. Paul recounts how A & P Shows were held in Shag Valley in the 1850s, then the first Palmerston and Waihemo A & P Show took place in 1882.

Since he became the association president in 2014 or 2015, its annual show has expanded from one to two, and now three days.

Moving with the times: past presidents of the Palmerston and Waihemo A & P Association. Photo: association’s Facebook

Each year they run at least six more days of events, including the Otago Field Days and inter-school competitions.

These events are largely equestrian and draw people from as far afield as North Canterbury, Invercargill and Central Otago. Entries have increased from 50 or 60 to more than 1000.

The Field Days have also flourished and extended to include information about health and the environment.

“The Field Days was an event to help put Palmerston on the map,” Paul says.

Tractors in action at the Palmerston and Waihemo A & P Show in January this year. Photo: supplied

Last year because of the global Covid-19 pandemic, they didn’t want to risk a large gathering, so introduced the Speaker Series in case the Field Day had to be cancelled.

University of Otago and Otago Polytechnic lecturers, and several retirees, supported the series and the theatre was packed for the Regenerative Farming discussion. A second series will be held later this year.

The impetus continues and a group meets in Dunedin almost weekly to talk about future possibilities for practical progress regarding farming, the environment, health and social issues.

Paul’s USA contacts have shown “incredible generosity” in sharing related research which would have cost more than a million dollars were it even able to be funded in New Zealand.

“That spirit of generosity, I’m moved by that and that’s why I’m happy to do that work with our community. My life is so enriched by my involvement with all these people,” he says.

Volunteers support all the association’s events. He says perhaps because of the Covid-19 crisis, it’s growing easier to attract both speakers and volunteers.

“We’re grateful for the help they give us and we hope they get something out of it too.”

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For further information:

About Otago Field Days

About the Palmerston and Waihemo A & P Show


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