LandWISE project manager of sustainable systems Alex Dickson is a keynote speaker at the upcoming LandWISE conference. Photo: Supplied.

So, for the 20th year in succession, Dan’s getting a group of very smart people in a room and hoping they can provide them.

LandWise 2024 – Rebuilding Our Soils convenes in Havelock North on May 15, for two days of discussions and demonstrations centred on two main themes. The first relates to the title theme of this year’s conference, with the second focused on agritech.

Not surprisingly, the impacts of Cyclone Gabrielle are of particular interest to Bloomer, who is the longtime manager of LandWISE Inc.

Silt was a major issue in the aftermath of the flooding and Bloomer has a theory about its potential ramifications for agriculture.

“First of all, I’m pedantic and I don’t call it silt. I call it sediment because it’s a mixture of sand, silt and clay,’’ Bloomer said. “Silt to me is a very specific description around one-sized particle. Sediment is a term we should all be using.

“Now, I don’t know, but I’ve got a suspicion that I’m trying to put some method into validating, that we had a bit of mass hysteria around removal of sediment. There were situations where it was a completely sensible thing to do and there were other situations where I think it was very misinformed and shouldn’t have been done. 

“It’s nuanced, but people also need to understand that removing that sediment from a site is not the end of remediation, because they will have done serious compaction of the soil underneath that will reduce its ability to breathe and to take in water and move water through and severely limit re-growth. So we’re going to see stresses resulting from compaction in a lot of cases.’’

Project manager of sustainable systems at LandWise Inc, Alex Dickson, is among those presenting on the topic of Cyclone Gabrielle, with a particular emphasis on historic flood events in Hawke’s Bay. It’s a topic she’s doing a masters’ thesis on at Massey University and one Bloomer is particularly interested in.

If LandWISE is about anything it is, in Bloomer’s words: “Not so much about how we can maximise the yield, it’s more about how you can farm profitably now but still have a farm in good condition in 25 years that you can pass onto your kids.’’

That’s why learning from the cyclone is so important to the future of sustainable food production in Hawke’s Bay.

“The important thing is people have bounced back. So, mentally people have come back and physically production’s happening again,’’ said Bloomer. “We’ve just had a really, really good growing season, which frankly we all needed.

“But this has happened numerous times before in recorded European history.’’

So Bloomer, Dickson and others have researched not only Cyclone Bola, from 1988, but floods in the 1930s and 40s as well.

“I’m not sure that we’ve learnt from those perhaps as well as we’d like. So we’d like to learn from this one and leave, what we’re calling, a legacy behind,’’ Bloomer said.

What and where to plant? What to remove? What to leave? 

Bloomer wants subsequent generations to have a roadmap of recovery and resilience material to navigate from. Massey University, Hawke’s Bay Regional Council, Gisborne District Council, private enterprise and central government agencies are all assisting LandWISE to compile the relevant information.

Then there’s next week’s conference itself.

Bloomer’s belief is there’s no right way to do everything and no one person with all the ideas. “We design it so people have got time to chat,’’ said Bloomer. “Our audience is typically a mix of farmers, industry reps, scientists, tech geeks and a few government bods floating around like MPI, the council and people like that.

“The bit that I really like is, when it’s time to go back in and listen to the next session, I have trouble getting them to shut up and go back to their seats because they’ve engaged so much. I’ve actually had to build more time into the programme so they can gas bag, but it’s actually really neat seeing it.

“What we’re trying to do with our conference is put some stuff out there for people to process whenever they can.

“We’re trying to give food for thought and I remember one guy, he rang me up after [a previous] conference, and said, ‘You realise that you made me think really hard for five hours while I drove back to Auckland’. He had so much processing to do that he was grinding the whole way back and thinking ‘how can I apply it to my things?’’’

“We bring in different concepts, float them round, show how they’ve been applied in one place.’’

In this year’s context, that’s around ‘regenerative cropping’.

“So trying to understand how we can change farm practices to use more of the principles of regenerative agriculture in the context of producing an intensive process crop,’’ Bloomer said.

“Farms that are feeding Watties’ and McCain’s factories – how can we look after our soils in different ways? Can we do it in a way that stores more carbon? Can we do it in a way that increases our soil’s water-holding capacity? Can we use softer products that help get soils healthier?’’

But it’s all done with the knowledge that everyone’s individual situation is different. “We can give you the off the rack stuff, but it ain’t going to fit nearly as well as tailored,’’ said Bloomer.

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air


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