A new Future Farming Centre at Lincoln University is advocating a big-picture view of agriculture that goes well beyond the existing preoccupation with getting the biggest yields.
The centre has been launched by the Biological Husbandry Unit, a trust run as a joint venture between Lincoln and the organic movement.
It'll operate as a science and extension centre for what its promoters call permanent agricultural and horticultural systems such as organics and biological farming.
The head of the centre, Charles Merfield, says there has to be a balance between the long-term survival of agriculture and the demand for unlimited food to feed an ever-increasing world population.
"If we just focus on maximising yield," he says, "then that invariably means you wear out the factory that is the farm."
Believes message is gaining ground
Dr Merfield says if humanity wants to be around for hundreds of thousands of years, there has to be an agricultural system that can persist and continue to be effective, rather than "unendingly trying to chase increased yield".
"Agriculture is a biological system, there is a physical limit to what any particular farm or agricultural system can produce, it can't go beyond that."
Dr Merfield thinks that message is gaining ground among farmers and farming suppliers.
"The message is very clearly getting through that we can't just keep on maximising our food production, whether that's in New Zealand or globally."