Our Land and Water National Science Challenge launched

Enhancing New Zealand’s primary sector economic contributions while improving our environment is the aim of the newest National Science Challenge, Our Land and Water – Toitū te Whenua, Toiora te Wai.

The Challenge, the largest of the 11, has been officially launched by Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce in Wellington tonight [26th January]. It is hosted by AgResearch and brings together researchers from all seven crown research institutes and four universities. Funding for the Challenge is nearly $100 million over 10 years. This will be supported by additional co-funding of up to $130 million from the crown research institutes.

“It’s a truly auspicious day,” says Dr Paul Reynolds, the interim board chair. “The primary sectors underpin the country’s economy and it has never been more urgent to provide research solutions that enhance productivity whilst maintaining and improving the environmental values on which farming, as well as society, depend.”

He says researchers have worked extensively with farmers, growers and foresters, environmental managers and Māori to co-develop a programme to meet the Challenge’s objective. The Challenge has four research themes: Innovative, resilient land and water use; Collaborative capacity; Greater value in global markets; and Operating at the Nexus.

The Challenge is hosted by AgResearch, and its research partners are University of Auckland, ESR, GNS, Landcare Research, Lincoln Agritech, Lincoln University, Massey University, NIWA, Plant & Food Research, Scion, and University of Waikato.

“The Challenge has been influenced by and will build on the good work already done by the Land and Water Forum. We have close links with several of the other Challenges, in particular Biological Heritage which focuses on our native biodiversity, biosecurity, and resilience to harmful organisms. Together we will be working to accelerate science for the betterment of our land and water and the next generation.”

Dr Reynolds announced the first two official Challenge appointments: Ken Taylor as permanent Challenge director and Professor Richard McDowell as Chief Scientist.

“Mr Taylor is currently the Director of the Science Group at Environment Canterbury, and chairs a reference group of the Land and Water Forum, and is ideally placed to lead the Challenge.”

Professor McDowell has been the Interim Chief Scientist, and is a Principal Scientist at AgResearch and Professor of Soil and Water Quality at Lincoln University.

“His special interest in providing options and tools to mitigate water quality contamination while maintaining profitable primary production enterprises will be invaluable to the Challenge,” says Dr Reynolds.

AgResearch Chief Executive Dr Tom Richardson says it is a privilege for AgResearch to host the Challenge and lead its establishment.

“This has been a huge combined effort to date, with more than 50 stakeholder organisations involved. The Challenge team has already determined there are 350 research projects contributing towards the Challenge outcome. The research plan for the Challenge has focussed on filling the gaps.

“In addition to the new government funding, the Challenge has the mandate to act as the integrator and influencer for all of the research projects in this area. I think this is where the most value will be created for New Zealand.

“The launch marks, in Winston Churchill’s words, the end of the beginning. The way ahead and the opportunity for transformational science for the benefit of all of us is very exciting,” says Dr Richardson.

Announcements on the first projects funded by the Challenge are expected in May.

The Challenge science

Initial research under consideration:

  • Determine how to achieve greater value from global markets – designing production systems that meet both international consumers and local community needs.
  • Identify next generation primary production systems – opportunities to change the face of farming
  • Use natural and enhanced resistance to land use pressures in soils and waters to meet community values and guide land use suitability decisions
  • Determining land use suitability to enable more productive land use
  • Determine the role of collaboration in transforming management of land and water
  • Develop an integrated set of economic, environmental social and cultural indicators to support enhanced primary sector performance
  • Develop a mātauranga-centred framework to assist land and water utilisation and community engagement