Feature article

Adapting to climate change in eastern New Zealand

Philip and Robyn Holt have implemented a whole new system of farming since the drought years of the 1980s. About 20% of the farm has been planted in trees as they work towards their ultimate goal of ensuring their farm against floods and droughts with catchment protection, shelter, and shade.

Farmers have been taking some severe hits from recent extreme weather events, testing their resolve to continue to manage a highly vulnerable industry. While the impacts of such extreme events are largely beyond their control, a recent report 'Adapting to Climate Change in Eastern New Zealand' shows that farmers are probably ahead of their urban peers in working to mitigate and adapt to future environmental challenges and change.

The report, compiled from farmer interviews and workshops by Dr Gavin Kenny of Earthwise Consulting, is a resource kit of farmer perspectives and action on global change. It shows that farmers have inherited the lessons learned from pioneer policies of exploiting the land, and, in some cases for several decades, have been working to restore damaged landscapes. Farmers have been adept at detecting farm and catchment scale changes that have occurred because of climate variability and change, and have been adapting their farming practices and strategic planning.

Going further than their farm gates, the report highlights the need to build on the work of proactive farmers in developing regional resilience. This requires active and positive partnerships between farmers, urban communities, industry groups, and statutory organisations. These partnerships need to develop forward vision, taking account of future climate change, and identify priorities for protecting and enhancing the environment, for future-proofing of farming, and for the wider benefit of everyone.

To the left we show images of just one of the farms described in the report, that of Philip and Robyn Holt at Maraetara, Hawke’s Bay. The farm has been subjected to many severe floods and droughts over the past 60 years. The Holt’s current management strategies have been honed through these experiences and an ongoing review of how to farm within the limitations of the climate.

For more information email Dr Gavin Kenny, [email protected], or the National Climate Centre, [email protected].


Adapting to Climate Change in Eastern New Zealand – a farmer perspective. Compiled and written by Gavin Kenny. Illustrated by Fred Robertson. Programme funded by the Sustainable Farming Fund, Environment Bay of Plenty, Hawke’s Bay Regional Council, Environment Canterbury, AGMARDT, Climate Change Office/Ministry for the Environment, and Merino Inc. Copies of the resource kit, and more information about the project, are available from www.earthlimited.org