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09Aug

A lifestyle of love

What do Lowline Angus cattle, Suffolk sheep, Argentine barbecues and academia have in common? They represent the blueprint of Pablo Gregorini’s life.

 

Pablo Gregorini leads a very full life. University professor, stud farmer, father, husband, keen tramper, wine swiller, researcher, academic; he leaves no minutes in his day unfilled. Originally from Argentina, Gregorini completed his undergraduate studies in agronomy and a Masters degree in ruminant nutrition at Argentina’s National University of La Plata, before completing his PhD in Animal Science at the University of Arkansas in the United States, and a post-doctoral study with the USDA-ARS. He worked as a scientist in nutritional ecology, grazing and range management in the USA, Netherlands and England, before his interest in pastoral livestock production systems, nutrition and foraging ecology of ruminants took him to New Zealand, where he accepted a scientist position in the Feed and Farm Systems Group at DairyNZ in 2008.

In record time, he was promoted to Senior Scientist by 2012; awarded as the 2009 Emerging Scientist for his scientific innovative contributions to NZ agricultural science by the KuDos Hamilton Society of Science Excellence. “I always wanted to be an academic like my parents,” he said. “I also wanted to lead science and be an influence in the future of livestock production and grazing management worldwide.  Lecturing is my passion as well; I lecture not only in the classroom, but in living labs, out in the field.”

 

Since his PhD in 2007, Gregorini has authored more than 56 peer-reviewed scientific articles, four international booked chapters, more than 80 conference papers and held 55 ‘invited speaker’ presentations in Australasia, Europe, USA and South America. After such an illustrious and comprehensive career, his lecturing passion remained and the professor joined Lincoln University in 2017, employed as the Professor of Livestock Production and the Head of the Centre of Excellence Designing Future Productive Landscapes. “I feel that I’m not only informing, but also forming future farmers, consultants, and scientists,” he said. “That is a huge honour and learning experience for me too.” The passionate teacher works full-time at Lincoln University, advising eight PhD students and two post-doctoral fellows whilst teaching three courses; Dairy Production Science, Meat and Wool Production and Advanced Livestock Production. His PhD students are carrying his torch high; looking at using benefits from the natural environment to enhance future livestock production systems. This includes how those on the land can better capture and sequester carbon, as well as improve grazing country. The team of researchers is delving deeply into how farmers can provide better diets and grazing environments for cattle, sheep and deer in the agricultural sector, to better the lives of the animals. The welfare of the animals is of utmost importance according to Gregorini. “People who pay for meat want to know the animals have a life worth living,” he said. “These students are putting in a lot of hard work to help provide farmers with nutritional and grazing management tools to enhance their livestock’s good lives as much as possible.” This consumer trend towards ideological, ‘green’ choices is supported by the facts; according to beef + lamb NZ, retail sales of labelled, fresh grass-fed beef reached USD $272 million in 2016 in the United States - up from USD $17 million in 2012 – with sales doubling every year. New Zealand remains unique on a global scale; exporting more than more than 90 percent of its sheep meat and beef, while remaining niche producers with a feeding capacity of only 30 million people. And with the United States taking 50 percent of New Zealand’s exports, it makes sense for farmers to take note of this emerging international cultural narrative – and how they can be as clean, ‘green’ and sustainable as possible.

 

It was thanks to Gregorini’s academic passion that he met the next love of his life; his American cowgirl wife Mindy. “I met Mindy while finishing my PhD in the USA; she was finishing her degree in Poultry Science at the University of Arkansas,” Pablo said. “She’s a real great partner for me, as she loves animals and country life; she’s a real cowgirl.” Together, the two have eked out a lifestyle that takes the best from both the professional and farming worlds. Sustainability is key on their 10 acre block; growing and preparing much of their kitchen table produce themselves with a flourishing vegetable garden, orchard, chickens and two dairy sheep.

A Lowline Angus bull and 10 heifers and a Suffolk ram and 10 ewes are a dream come true for the pair. “Mindy and I have always loved agriculture and it has always been our dream to own and breed livestock.  As soon as we had the resources, we set about forming our little herds and we have enjoyed every moment of it,” Pablo explained. “Of course, it’s not without its challenges. Farming on a lifestyle block can be complicated. For example, managing pasture and resources when companies, machinery, and contractors are set for big enterprises can be difficult, and finding time to care for all the stock in between working outside the home and managing the children’s school activities can be tricky. However, this is definitely the lifestyle for us, and we are glad to be raising our kids to know not only where their food comes from, but how to grow it and care for the land.”

 

Pablo jokes that his choice of livestock comes from his carnivorous Argentine background. “It was always a dream of mine to have a small breeding herd, and I think that small frame score animals, such as my Lowline Angus, are better suited not only for lifestyle blockers, but other livestock operations as well. Our bull is the son of a New Zealand champion, out of Ashmore Stud in Ashburton,” he continued. “Suffolk is another great source of meat, and that’s why that breed works with me. In addition, Mindy owns two Fresian-Awassi cross milking ewes, and milks for home dairy use, making her own cheese and yoghurt.”

 

Pablo takes care of what he calls his ‘mini operation’ before and after work at the University, while Mindy handles the feline and canine breeding side; producing quality Ragdoll cats, miniature poodles and fox-red English Labradors. Around their work come the children and all of their idiosyncrasies and extra-curricular itineraries. “Eva is 11-years-old and loves soccer and training her Labrador, Honey,” Pablo said. “Sofia is nine-years-old and enjoys gymnastics and adores the cats and helping mum with the kittens. While six-year-old Manolo is my little cowboy, and loves getting muddy and helping me care for the stock and maintaining our block.” Mindy chose to get into breeding Ragdoll cats eight years ago. “They are characterised by having a very outgoing and friendly nature.  They are chatty, always letting you know when they need something, and love their people, often following their owners from room to room,” Gregorini said. “Our retired tom cat follows us everywhere, and he’s usually right there along with the dogs and I when we do our daily farm chores. I often joke that they’re the ‘dogs’ of the cat world.  They even like to have their bellies rubbed!” The cats are a vital part of the extended menagerie. “Mindy loves breeding ragdolls. It’s a breed that’s easy to work with, and she can make her own schedule, so she can also help out with other responsibilities.

It is, however, something one has to be very dedicated to, as the housing facility must be kept very clean, and each and every cat and kitten must be handled regularly, not only for cuddling and grooming, but also to assess health and wellbeing,” he said. “Mindy spends lots of time making sure the cats have a very clean and comfortable living area, and that they are happy and healthy. She only sells domestically, as she wouldn’t want to stress a cat with a long flight; but selling locally enables her to interview each potential buyer for suitability, and gives the buyers the chance to come and meet Mindy and the kittens before making their purchase.” In his rare downtime, Gregorini enjoys getting out into the hills on tramping missions and fly-fishing expeditions. “I also enjoy barbecuing beef at home on our Argentine style barbecue and drinking red wine - Cabernet Sauvignon if possible,” he said. “And, I brew my own beer too!”

 

Pablo has been awarded for his scientific and academic merit many times, from early in his career. In 1998 he was awarded the Advanced Student Award from the Argentinean Association of Animal Production, before receiving the Young Overseas Researchers Award from the Netherlands’ Wageningen Agricultural University in 2002. Then in 2005, his academic merit was acknowledged by the International Livestock Congress, and was inducted into the Gamma Sigma Delta Honour Society of Agriculture in the United Stated a few months later. The professor is organising Lincoln University’s first international workshop on ‘Grazing in Future Multiscapes: From Mindscapes to Landscapes; Building Health from the Ground Up’ to be held towards the end of next year. Open to the public, the event will discuss the future of pastoral agriculture, with 20 expert speakers from around the globe. The panellists and speakers will be delving into the importance of agronomy and sustainable farming while covering all aspects of pastoralism.

 

Gregorini is especially future conscious, and keen to explore how farming needs to evolve and shift in order to be sustainable, whilst meeting the enormous – and increasing - global demand for food and fibre. This is particularly pertinent when looking forward towards the year 2050, where the estimated world population is a swollen 9.7 billion people. Gregorini has been an integral part of new initiatives at Lincoln University, including last year’s Designing Future Productive Landscapes, which involved students working within a ‘living laboratory’, ‘incubating’ ideas in the classroom which could then be ‘hatched’ in the field; with research projects around the sustainability of practices in hill country, dryland and irrigated landscapes. In particular, the initiatives have looked at how global pressures are affecting landscapes around the world; diminishing biodiversity, reducing water and air quality and accelerating soil loss. “Given New Zealand’s economic reliance on food agricultural production and provenance, our global brand, prosperity and well-being are at risk,” Gregorini said.

Lincoln University’s network of farms places the institute in a prime position to delve deeply into how the future of farming could look; and what practices need to be encouraged to ensure the success of the agricultural industry. “We want to create adaptive agroecosystems to reconnect our landscape, our livestock and ourselves, by restoring broken linkages among plants, herbivores and humans with diets that nourish and satiate, as well as heal our planet.” The scientist is also in the process of setting up two ‘future farms’ to look at alternative land uses. “We are setting up a series of design workshops with farmers, stakeholders, and even primary and secondary school children, to help us create and implement these visions,” he said.  “We want these farms to be catalysts for change, exploring concepts of future and systems thinking, future agro-ecosystems, and regenerative agriculture. One of the stations is located near Otago’s Lake Hawea, and will become a centre of excellence for high country farming, while near Lincoln University, we’re transforming a dry land sheep operation farm into a biodiverse farming operation.”

 

The professor has the future of farming on his shoulders and hopes to see others take similar accountability. “The future of farming, to me, is all on us,” he said. “Agricultural products reflect the history of landscapes, foodscapes and thereby agricultural and grazing systems, manifested through soil and plant chemistry, and ourselves and our planet’s health. Ultimately, we are what our food eats. What we do to the land, we do to ourselves. In the end, by nurturing the land, we nurture ourselves.”

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