As part of our Whanganui 2050 series Laurel Stowell asks what agriculture and land use will look like in 30 years' time.
Change on the land happens slowly - and usually at the margins - so if you drive into Whanganui from Hāwera, Raetihi or Palmerston North in 2050 what you see will be very similar to today.
Massey University's Dr James Lockhart expects more intense use of the best soils and less use, even reversion to native forest, on the region's hard hill country.
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The Whanganui region is renowned for its pastoral agriculture, he said - sheep and cattle raised for meat and fed on grass. For people with land of reasonable quality that will continue to offer a good return.
According to Deloitte research on the future of food, about half the people in the world will continue to seek out nutritious foods like beef and lamb.
New Zealand lamb is one of the world's greatest proteins, Lockhart said, and the nutritional content of pasture-raised beef beats meat from animals raised standing on feedlots.
There are changes already afoot. The northern Manawatū and Rangitīkei area has 85,000 fewer ewes than three years ago. Marginal land is being changed to forestry or mānuka for honey production.
But if profitability is the main driver of land use, then sheep and beef will continue to be raised on any land that can support 15 stock units to the hectare, Lockhart predicts.
Government policy to plant trees that will store carbon and offset greenhouse gas emissions could change that. Lockhart is hoping land will not be blanketed in pine trees as it was in Tairāwhiti/Gisborne - becoming "uninhabitable" with beaches that are "unswimmable".
During the last 30 or 40 years land use has actually became less varied in our region.
Lockhart remembers field tomatoes grown for processing, wheat grown for local milling and crops of sunflowers. There were once pear and apple orchards, but most are gone.
"Our beautiful, beautiful soils should be being used more intensively than they are now," he said.
New crops are surfacing - kiwifruit is making a resurgence, wheat could be milled again, there are quinoa growers, and seeds could be grown for oil.
Lockhart expects more attention to the capability of land, and a more conscious use of land and water in future.
If climate change makes for drier summers then crops could include lucerne and maize, or more drought tolerant pastures.
Whanganui Federated Farmers president Mike Cranstone agrees most landowners will continue to graze sheep and cattle.
Like Lockhart, he hopes there won't be too much productive hill country put into forest for timber or carbon credits - or into mānuka for honey.
"Livestock are currently farmed on only 45 per cent of New Zealand's land area. We need to think carefully before we take any more land away from food production."
New Zealand's production, processing, distribution and markets are all established for its key meat products. They will still be a good solid basis for our agriculture, he said.
Like Lockhart he's seeing the poorest land go into trees, and some of the best soils on flat land go into horticulture, which he said was ideal in Whanganui's temperate climate.
Science will make future farming easier and more profitable, he said. Satellites will measure pasture growth, and animals with collars will be contained by virtual fences.
"That's got huge environmental advantages. Rather than having to fence a waterway in hill country you could potentially have a virtual fence line that would prevent stock entering it."
The last years have been focused on increasing farm production. He predicts the next years will focus on achieving positive environmental outcomes.
Bulls mixed farmer Roger Dalrymple is the founder of the Rangitīkei Rivers Catchment Collective and believes their influence will cause a sea change in farming.
"It will be completely different from what we are doing now. Our biodiversity is going to be tripled or doubled. There's going to be a heck of a lot more planting and it's not going to be pine trees."
He's predicting a better understanding of the effect of farming on the landscape, control of predators allowing native birds to flourish, hopefully some wildlife corridors and perhaps even the return of kiwi to Rangitīkei.
Like Lockhart and Cranstone, he thinks diversity is on the way.
"It's all sheep and beef now. But every single person in this [Rangitīkei] catchment has some really high quality land that could do something else."
The catchment groups can broaden to include other forms of co-operation. Any 1ha of quality soil could grow apples, grapes, oranges, avocados and they could be harvested and processed by the collective.
"It will be a new industry, and not lonely, by yourself. It will spread the income, provide labour opportunities, spread your risk from sheep and beef, and it encourages diversity in a community."
All the collective landowners will be involved, he said, and they will share resources like packing houses, machinery and transport.
Bulls farmer and forester Denis Hocking says predicting the future is risky, but global warming has to cause changes.
Rainfall of over 70mm for 36 hours used to be rare at his property, but has happened three times in the last 20 years. Temperatures over 30C are also becoming more common in summer, and there is less winter chill.
He doesn't think the region will develop extreme fire risk in the next 30 years, as Australia and California have. Our humidity rarely falls below 60 per cent and is maintained by westerly winds off the Tasman Sea.
Despite our rainfall being less extreme than the West Coast's, he thinks hill country erosion may increase. It will be prudent to plant trees on the hills, to store carbon while growing and also after they have been harvested and made into wood products.
The best will be forestry trees with a longer rotation, or coppicing species whose roots hold the soil.
It would also be good to choose forestry species with lower fire risk. Cypresses and eucalypts burn more readily than pruned pines, for example.
People choosing native plants for revegetation projects might be better to choose those suited to warmer temperatures.
Traditional rye grass pasture will not fare well in increased drought and higher temperatures, he said.
Different grasses, such as phalaris species that survive drought through growing underground tubers, will be needed.
"I think we need to be looking at what other countries with these conditions are doing," he said.
The sorghum and lucerne on his farm have responded to short bursts of rain with enthusiasm, whereas his pasture didn't.
"We may have to starting looking around for plants that can respond very quickly to rain, and then hunker down until the next lot," he said.
He doesn't believe having the extra carbon dioxide of climate change in the air will boost the growth of all plants.
Research is showing some have no response to the change, some have a temporary response and some have a permanent response - especially those with beneficial fungi attached to their roots.
"The response of vegetation to rising CO2 is likely to be very complicated," he said.
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