"One Paddock at a Time": A Multispecies Ethnography of Farmers' Experiments with Regenerative Agriculture in New Zealand
This thesis explores how and why farmers are transitioning to regenerative agriculture in New Zealand. Regenerative agriculture is an umbrella term that encompasses an array of practices which seek to bring more life to farm systems, with a central focus on soil health. I examine the more-than-human relationships that are involved in this transition and consider the practical, political, and moral implications of regenerative agriculture. I argue that farmers’ transitions to regenerative agriculture are best understood as a non-linear process of experimentation and that through engaging with regenerative agriculture, farmers are re-acquainted with the experimental nature of their farm systems. This thesis examines ethnographic data gathered through interviews and participant observation with medium-scale commercial farms in the South Island of New Zealand, across the Canterbury, Otago, and Southland regions. I analyse the historical processes through which paddocks were made in New Zealand and detail the political, economic and environmental factors which continue to shape the paddock today. Farmers’ experiments with regenerative agriculture are continually mediated by these dynamics and I complicate models which seek to understand why farmers engage with regenerative agriculture in behavioural terms alone. Throughout, I explore the more-than-human interactions that are involved in farmers’ experiments in order to demonstrate how experimentation, as a ‘machine for making the future’ (Rheinberger 1994), is always a multispecies affair. I suggest that following farmers’ experiments in regenerative agriculture gives insight into how farmers seek to enact more liveable worlds amidst the complex milieu of the export-orientated, productivist, New Zealand agricultural industry.