John Roche

Chief Science Adviser

John was appointed Chief Science Adviser to New Zealand’s Ministry for Primary Industries in June 2018 to provide independent and strategic science advice to the Director-General and to provide leadership in the wider ministry science areas. He is a member of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Adviser’s Science Forum.
John leads a number of the Research and Development Accelerators, in partnership with science organisations, farming industry bodies, and iwi Maori. He also Chairs the independent Mycoplasma bovis Strategic Science Advisory Group, set up to help accelerate eradication, and the Early Investment Panel for accelerating mitigation solutions to greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. He is also an Adjunct Professor in University of Auckland’s, School of Biological Sciences and leads interactions between the Ministry and science providers domestically and internationally. In August 2022, John took on the additional role of Director, On Farm Support with the Ministry, to establish an on-the-ground support service for farmers and growers to help them navigate information, investigate opportunities, and access advice.
John has an Honours degree in Agricultural Science, a Masters in Farm Systems and Pasture Management, and a PhD in Animal Nutrition. He was previously DairyNZ’s Principal Scientist for Animal Science. He’s also held science appointments with the National Centre for Dairy Production Research in Ireland, the Department of Primary Industries in Australia, and the University of Tasmania. He is also Managing Director of Down to Earth Advice Ltd.
His research specialties include the role of nutrition in health, reproduction, and production, and he has led programmes in genotype x environment interactions, mineral nutrition, intake regulation, methane, and the role of body condition score in dairy cattle health and welfare. He has published more than 160 peer-reviewed science journal articles and book chapters, has an H-Index of 58 and 13,000 citations, and is a regular contributor at both science and farming conferences across the world.

The future of food and what that means for our soil

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus is credited with the reflection that ‘change is the only constant’. This often-cited cliché has been recently validated in scientific experiments that have shown that people change their standards as their circumstances change. This is very evident in food production, a subject in which there is increasing consumer demand for food producers to meet ever increasing standards for social, environmental, and animal care. It is also an area of much theorising and, in some cases, mis- and disinformation, around the role of the food system in addressing environmental challenges – from the warming impacts of different diets to the role of the soil as a carbon sequestration aid. As a species, we face an almost incredible challenge. Humanity must produce as much protein in the next 30 years as has been delivered in the last 2,000 years and, for the first time, there is no more land. We must achieve this in the face of a changing climate, a factor already estimated to have reduced agricultural productivity by almost 20% and will reduce food production further in the coming decades (compared with a stable climate). Our soils are the foundation of our food production and it is essential we preserve our high-quality soils and regenerate or ‘retire’ those that have been degraded due to inappropriate use. These challenges will take all of our ingenuity to overcome.