Farmers need to take a ''holistic'' approach to respond to today's environmental challenges.

Canterbury farm facilitator and coach John King said, in order to thrive, farming practices needed to regenerate soils, lift profits and lower labour input - ''the new triple bottom line'' - but it started with ''context''.

Mr King has been working with the Red Meat Profit Partnership (RMPP) to run workshops throughout New Zealand, helping farmers to rethink the way they ran their businesses.

He said most farms in New Zealand today were ''overstocked'' as expectations have been ''over-inflated'', encouraging farmers to irrigate and fertilise more.


''We keep building up supply, but today's environmental challenges are not included in the algorithms banks use.

''Farmers need to react because the way they have been been set-up isn't working any more, but a lot of guys are coming to me when it's too late.''

Mr King said farming practices were impacting not only on families, but on communities as a whole.

''The way we have measured success is buying out the neighbour, so who is left to be the president of the rugby club or drive the school bus?''

Mr King was born and bred on a farm in Southland before studying agricultural science at Lincoln University.

But it was while working in the United States that his eyes were opened to the dangers of industrial farming.

He returned to New Zealand to complete a masters degree in adult development and it was while attending an IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements) conference at Lincoln University where he met internationally renowned ecologist Allan Savory.

''He talked about what you may call 'context'. We began by talking about decision-making processes, families and the landscape in a way no-one at Lincoln (University) had talked about.''

The solution, he said, was more diversity in the farm system.

When he met with farmers or ran workshops, Mr King said he asked them to identify the different types of enterprises that could be run on the farm which ''you don't necessarily need to run yourself, but just provide the land''.

He said he worked mostly with sheep and beef farmers and some dairy farmers. His work with the RMPP focused on ''problem solving and creativity on farms'', including how to farm with environmental plans.

''I introduce people to ideas and get groups together to observe and discuss things together.''

The ''holistic'' approach took thinking beyond running the farm and considered relationships with others.

''If the farmer's wife is at the table, the conversation tends to run smoother.''

He said he asked farmers ''how do your personal biases stop you from moving forward?'' and he encouraged them to take time off farm ''to break that cycle and mix with other people, especially those who aren't farmers''.