Tussock tales: National Ambassadors embark on study tour delving into grasslands


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As the 2023 National Ambassadors for Sustainable Farming and Growing and recipients of the Gordon Stephenson Trophy, Steve and Kellie Nichol recently had the opportunity to participate in a ‘study and flag-flying tour’ of Tasmania, Australia. Steve and Kellie report on their findings… 

We currently own a predominately sheep and beef farm, located within the Taieri catchment in Otago. The property has a mix of developed pastures and modified natural tussock grasslands with some exotic forestry. The catchment is known for its rocky landscapes, significant waterways and wetland areas as well its dryland tussock ecosystems.

Our tussock grasslands are less productive than our exotic pastures but are an integral component of our current farming system as they provide shelter, intermittent grazing and riparian management due to the natural topography. Tussock grasslands are rich in biodiversity and a key component of our national identity, but in some cases lack the appropriate incentives, especially with private landowners to conserve and reward our farmers for their stewardship.

The objective of the tour was to develop our understanding of natural grasslands ecosystems, identify novel sustainable farm management practices that may complement our current farming system and realise the potential value proposition of improving our own environmental credentials through new revenue streams.

As livestock farming transitions from an economic model which prioritises commodity products to one that prioritises, measures and validates natural capital on farm, we were interested in discovering novel approaches to incentivise landowners to improve environmental outcomes and the emerging technology which will help bridge the gap.

We ventured to Tasmania, Australia on a whirlwind discovery tour looking at various farming operations, followed with several online meetings. Tasmania is known for its rich biodiversity, natural grasslands and temperate climate. Currently 37% of all farms in Tasmania have conservation areas with numerous initiatives in progress to support and remunerate landowners for their efforts.

The tour provided insights into how landowners are creating new value from their farm’s natural resources through several innovative conservation projects, using the latest technology to account for natural capital on farm.

The report also highlights a number of mechanisms currently available to incentivise landowners to protect and enhance our natural ecosystems. The appropriate one will depend on the specific context, goals and stakeholders involved. The rise of commodity markets such as carbon credits should provide a cautionary tale that incentives need to be carefully considered and balanced, especially for our fragile but richly diverse natural grasslands of New Zealand.

Read Steve and Kellie’s full report here

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