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Launch of regenerative project investigates impacts of growing

LeaderBrand and Countdown regenerative farming

We are leading a joint project with Countdown and Plant & Food Research which is the first industry-wide collaboration to investigate the impacts of regenerative farming practices in vegetable farming, particularly in relation to productivity, profitability, people and environment.

We are running the project from our Gisborne farm and have a demonstration site being established to trial regenerative practices and evaluate the impacts of using compost and cover crops across varied crop rotations.

The trial site will run next to a control site operating under current management practices, so that the impacts of the regenerative practices can be compared over time. 

The project is also focussed on the role of perennial plantings in facilitating ecosystem restoration, and will engage with staff, community, and iwi to create practices that work with, and for the wider community. 

Gordon McPhail, our General Manager of Farming says that the strong research focus of this project will help to create tools that will allow vegetable growers to make informed decisions about implementing regenerative farming practices of their own.

“Ultimately, we want this project to deliver a framework for how LeaderBrand and other farmers can produce food more sustainably, now and for future generations.


“We’ve already been working hard in this space and this joint project will allow us to build on some of our previous and current projects.  Having evidence-based solutions for integrated pest management, nutrient budgeting, soil management and crop rotation is a game changer.

“It’s also an opportunity for us to share and engage with our team, iwi, local communities, and customers on sustainable and regenerative practices,” says Gordon.

Much of New Zealand’s existing research on regenerative agriculture has been focused on pastoral land use so this project will provide an invaluable evidence base for our horticulture sector.

“This is an exciting programme to be working collaboratively on with Countdown and LeaderBrand. It provides a great opportunity to test regenerative practices based on scientific evidence that could be successfully adopted at a commercial scale to improve production and environmental outcomes linked to vegetable growing,” says Dr Paul Johnstone, General Manager Science Sustainable Production at Plant & Food Research.

Our agronomists and Plant & Food Research scientists are currently reviewing prior experience and published literature on options for cover crops. They’re also evaluating the likely benefits and risks in ecosystem restoration ahead of field trials in Gisborne later in the project.

The project has started with an assessment of nutrient release characteristics from compost applied at various rates on different soil types, at Plant & Food Research’s Hawke’s Bay Research Centre. This is an important first step to understanding alternative sources of crop nutrition and how they might complement or offset conventional fertilisers. 

Countdown’s Director of Corporate Affairs, Safety and Sustainability, Kiri Hannifin says that the retailer is proud to be supporting the innovative project which will push the boundaries of conventional vegetable growing and support one of their key produce suppliers work on how they can farm for the future.

“To ensure we have a sustainable, resilient, and secure food supply, it has never been more important to make sure we’re doing everything we can to protect and care for our land. We have to move beyond a ‘do no harm’ approach, and actively enhance New Zealand’s food systems – that’s what regenerative agriculture is all about,” says Kiri Hannifin. 

LeaderBrand Produce and Countdown have each supported this project with an investment of $300,000 in cash and in-kind, with research and data support from Plant & Food Research.

Listen to the interview with Mike Hosking here