Low impact farming buffer solution to peri-urban zone issues

28 September 2023 | News

A low impact farming buffer could be a solution to tension over encroaching urban development, a researcher in the Centre of Excellence: Designing Future Productive Landscapes, Dr Shannon Davis says.

Dr Davis told RNZ in an interview today that as part of the 'Our Land and Water National Science Challenge' she has researched attitudes towards the peri-urban zone, or the interface between urban and rural land, and how to cater for much-needed housing while retaining highly productive soils.

According to her research, incorporating a buffer zone between intensive farming activity and urban residents could help relieve issues and maintain food production.

Low impact farming involves small-scale, diverse operations and low artificial input farming creating distance between residents and conventional, larger scale export orientated production.

Dr Davis said there was a "lot of potential" to be able to create this zone and changes in planning could "direct land use to be more conducive to this idea".

The research showed that food production was vitally important to everyone involved but "we just need to design it slightly differently", she said.

The first stage of the research involved surveying residents who lived in the peri-urban zone, and the farmers and growers they had come to live alongside.

The survey showed the urban residents felt "extremely positive" about living next to food growing areas, and they valued the farmers and growers.

The growers and farmers were not so positive about their new neighbours, however, as they "faced some difficulties working so close to where people were living".

These were "reverse sensitivity issues", where the existing and new land uses may not be compatible, Dr Davis said.

The research was done in Darfield, Rolleston and Lincoln, where new development was expanding onto agricultural or horticultural land to meet the demand for housing.

It also uncovered a desire from both groups for more communication and greater connections.

The urban residents were willing to put up with noise and smells from the farms, but wanted easier access to the food that was being produced "over their back fence".

They wanted farmers' markets or farmgate sales, and to know the producers of the food and how it was produced.

According to Dr Davis, the latter issue came down to "passive agricultural literacy", where there was a disconnection between the urban and rural sectors in New Zealand.

However, the residents weren’t so happy about the heavier impacts of farming - such as spray drift and fertiliser plume, as well as the use of chemicals near schools and close to where they were living - which they felt could damage their health as well as the environment. 

Dr Davis said the second part of the research looked at how food production could be maintained in the peri-urban zone in a way that was acceptable to the residents.

The low impact farming belt was a solution from the residents when they looked for a buffer between the land uses.

Image: Dr Shannon Davis. Credit: Royal Society