Meet your trustees – Phil Schofield

"We should be encouraging soil carbon projects to provide farmers with evidence of the benefits of building soil health and consequently improving environmental outcomes for all."


  Added one year ago

Meet your trustees – Phil Schofield

 

What is your background?

I went to school in Taradale, and after high school, studied agriculture at Massey University and found it really interesting. I got really interested in agriculture, soils, land management and farm management. As a young graduate I worked for the Catchment Board (which is now the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council), doing soil erosion control plans, farm management plans, working with farmers to hold the soils on the hillsides, farm forestry (a bit), and stuff like that.

I then travelled for about five years, and when I returned, the areas I had worked in, in agriculture had substantially changed as the subsidies and livestock incentive schemes had been taken off. So instead of an environment where we were encouraging people to grow more grass and more sheep, we were reducing investment in that area of agriculture. I started working (initially) on a large asparagus block to fill in time while I looked for work. I ended up staying there for 20 years.

During that time of managing a large asparagus growing and processing operation, I completed a PhD at Massey, and started to understand more about plant roots and plant root exudates. Fifteen or so years ago I started doing more consultancy work.

One of the jobs at that time was about post-harvest decay of the fresh squash we were exporting to Japan. I discovered there was a strong link between the plant nutrition during growing (fertiliser in the field) and storability and squash quality and taste. That led me to easily be taught that the way we are feeding plants in the modern agricultural paradigm is wrong, and plant nutrition is mediated in soils by fungi, and soil bacteria, whose relationships with our crop or pasture plants are disrupted by the NPK fertiliser that we put in the ground.

Then I entered a period of working with farmers, teaching them new methods (old methods, but new to modern farming practices) of looking after soil health, growing deeper pasture roots and having a more healthy pastoral farming system. That led me to learn a whole lot about our current reliance on NPK fertiliser. The company I was working for at the time was mainly concentrating on selling biological fertiliser solutions to the dairy industry.

That period of time helped me learn how to help farmers build soil health and move away from heavy reliance on nutrients out of a bag. I also learned about pasture rotation, and pasture diversity and the importance of a healthy diverse pasture. Not only for soil health, but the health of the grazing animals.

When  the HBRC set up the HBFFT, I was appointed to the inaugural board. I was completely convinced that we needed to teach farmers (and lots of them) how to build soil health better. The easiest way to measure change in soil health was to measure the amount of soil carbon that was present. In a healthy system soil carbon accumulates, and that ends up being long term stable carbon in the soil.

When the Trust was started, my view was that we should be encouraging soil carbon projects to provide farmers with evidence of the benefits of building soil health and consequently improving environmental outcomes for all.

Since the Trust established, that’s what I’ve been working hard on, mainly aiming for Government funded research to show that farmers are able to mitigate all of their GHG emissions. We need to repopulate the green desert that we created 150 years ago when we burnt the bush. Land use change (mainly for shelter/shade and biodiversity), in hand with improving soil health is important.

There’s a lot of debate in the press about soil carbon, and a school of thought that New Zealand soils are pretty high in carbon, and hard to change. Mainly because most of us have only researched how to grow plants as quickly and as cheaply as we can. We haven’t really looked at the consequences for the growing environment.

Do you farm, if so what?

We live on a 50ha lifestyle block, that is increasingly planted in native trees. A fair bit of it got retired when we bought it, and we’ve grown a crop of forestry on the worst of it, which is now down and back into bush. Increasingly we’ll plant bush, maybe over the whole block. It’s the best land use for it. At the moment there is about 30ha that a neighbour leases for grazing.

Why are you part of the FFT?

My belief is that globally, farmers can fix the problem of climate change, quicker than anyone else, and given half the chance they probably mostly want to. But we need to quickly get the word out and make everyone brave enough. I’m excited by the opportunity that the Trust gives me to spread the word. I’m excited by the things we have coming up in the soil carbon space, and that’s why I joined the board. We need to provide the evidence, allow farmers to change. I’ve done this kind of work with agronomists in Europe, and my contacts over there are making great gains for their farmers.

Climate change can be resolved quickly if all land management resulted in 0.04% gain of carbon in the soil, every year. It’s tiny and doable. (The 4 per 1000 Initiative – from Paris 2015 IPCC meeting – calls for countries to draw down more carbon than they emit, and to store it in the soil.

How? By scaling up regenerative farming, grazing and land-use practices. These practices lead to an increase in photosynthesis — nature’s own system for pulling excess carbon out of the air and sequestering it in the soil. They also produce more drought-resistant and resilient crops, and more nutrient-dense food.

What part can the Future Farming Trust play in the success of HB's primary sector?

Getting our soil projects off the ground, and having our farmers doing fantastic environmental improvement practices and making more money than they did under their old chemical paradigm. We just have to get it going, and I think the way to get it going large scale is partly through market pull. People saying: “I only want to eat food that has a good carbon story behind it.” We’ve got to become locavores and conscious of the kind of food that we are eating.

Our role is out there behind the farm gate, with the farmer, helping him/her learn the ways to meet the environmental requirements. This generation of farmers is the first to have their activity on the land regulated.

However, the kind of systems that the FFT is heading towards resolve all those issues for the farmer. We want to help them get there, and at the same time have a healthier farm environment and farm community.

What are the biggest issues farmers are facing, and how can the Future Farming Trust help?

The biggest by far is climate change. The East Coast of the North Island is in a fairly tough position. If we look at the NIWA predictions and they’re getting more and more accurate, it’s evident that by 2030-2040, the number of hot days (over 40 degrees) will have gone up five-fold, the number of long dry spells will increase and their duration, too. The wind speeds will increase as will the intensity of the winter storms. Farmers need to be fully aware; the actions they take now that will equip them for the climate of 2050.   

My big push for the Trust is helping farmers become the best for the world. Allow the farmers to understand how they can fix this, but also preparing farmers for what’s to come.

 


Join the conversation

Wayne - Sep 27, 2022, 8:18 AM

The proof is in the results - and having had the benefit of Phil’s advice for many years the results in growth, drought resilience, diversity and animal performance have validated Phil’s approach.

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