The BHU Future Farming Centre

Staff and Associates

Charles Merfield: Head of the Future Farming Centre

HND Comm. Hort., M.Appl.Sci. Hons, PhD

Charles, better known as Merf, has a diverse background in organic horticulture and agriculture both managing farms and undertaking research and extension in a range of countries.  He therefore has a deep knowledge of real-world farming and science which means he is able to effectively bridge these two arenas to ensure that research will be applicable and implementable on-farm and that farmers understand the problems and limits of what research can achieve. 


Merf originally studied a HND in Commercial Horticulture at Writtle College in the UK, and has completed a number of postgraduate studies at Lincoln University culminating with his PhD.  He covered a wide range of topics including computing, horticultural management, agroecology, biological control of insects and fungal diseases, organic vegetable seed production, and non-chemical weed management. 

He was a 1999 Kellogg Rural Leadership scholar. 

Farming experience

His practical farming experience includes helping establish Sunnyfields Organic in the UK and running crop production at Epicurean Supplies in NZ after completing his HND in the UK. He also has a long-term advisory role at Harts Creek Farm in NZ. 

Research and extension expertise

Merf’s research skills are very broad including expertise in all aspects of ecological agronomy. 

Non-chemical weed management

He has international level expertise in all aspects of non-chemical weed management for annual, perennial and pasture crops, and is a world authority on thermal (flame and steam) weeding.


Merf has very extensive expertise in agricultural machinery, including developing the worlds only practical steam weeder, which included re-inventing the direct-fired steam boiler, optimising flame weeder design, both row and bed designs, creating the concept of false seedbed tillers, including the three fundamental designs of undercutter bar, rod weeder bar and A blade sweeps, he redesigned the pedestrian push hoe from first principles to create the ‘Four Wheel Hoe’, and has designed a number of other machines such as interrow hoes. 

Soil Management

He has extensive knowledge of the fundamentals of soil management, including nutrient management and soil biology and ecology. 

Biological control

Merf has had diverse experiences of biological control of insect pests and fungal diseases both in agricultural and natural settings, using classical, inundative and conservation biocontrol techniques. 


He also has general knowledge of livestock systems including pasture management, fodder crops, nutrition and parasite management.


His has a diverse range of extension skills and experience, from speaking at field days, through facilitating discussion groups, to organising and presenting whole-day workshops.  He consistently gains the highest levels of feedback on his extension work, the pinnacle of which was an invitation to a farmer-only conference in Oregon, USA.   

Research and extension experience

New Zealand

His research and extension work includes being a key founding member, chair and editor of the Canterbury Commercial Organics Group in NZ along with running a range of workshops and presenting at various conferences and field days, and lecturing at Lincoln University and the Organic College in NZ over the last decade. 

Republic of Ireland

Merf spent two years in the Republic of Ireland, at Teagasc, the Irish Government’s Agriculture and Food Development Agency, as the sole scientists in charge of organics.  This included writing a nutrient management guide and ‘Green Book’ chapter for organic agriculture, providing information on fodder crop establishment and use, running workshops on non-chemical weed management and organic soil management, speaking at field days and training the new dedicated organic farm advisers as well as consulting for individual producers from sole traders to dairy co-operatives.  He also conducted research on dock (Rumex obtusifolius) management and fodder crop establishment using minimum tillage. 


He had a sabbatical in the Pacific North West of the USA in 2008, based at Oregon State University, presenting at a wide range of conferences, workshops and seminars for both farmers and researchers as well as visiting a wide range of farms and research centres including Rodale. 


Merf was invited to visit to Uruguay in 2005 by the National Agricultural Research Institute (INIA) to advise on their organic research and extension programs. 

Commercial interests

Merf is also a founder, director and shareholder in two companies: PhysicalWeeding with Tim Chamberlain, that specialises in non-chemical weeding machinery and advice, and Agro-Ecological Investment Management with Geoff Burke, which is specialist asset management company, exclusively focused on investment in farmland as an asset class managed ecologically/organically. 

The BHU Future Farming Centre

Staff and Associates


Dr Charles Merfield: Head of the Future Farming Centre

HND Comm. Hort., M.Appl.Sci. Hons, PhD, MRSNZ

Charles, better known as Merf, has a diverse background in organic horticulture and agriculture both managing farms and undertaking research and extension in a range of countries.  He therefore has a deep knowledge of real-world farming and science which means he is able to effectively bridge these two arenas to ensure that research will be applicable and implementable on-farm and that farmers understand the problems and limits of what research can achieve. 

Full details of Merf’s expertise and experience. LinkedIn page.

Contact Merf at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Dr Simon Hodge

BSc Zoology (Leeds), MSc Ecology (Durham), PhD Ecology (Sunderland), BA Mathematics & Statistics (OU).

Simon is an ecologist, entomologist and, a statistician who has worked as a research associate at Rothamsted Research, Sunderland University, Wye College and Imperial College in the UK, and Canterbury University and Lincoln University in New Zealand.  Simon’s research has covered a wide range of themes, from theoretical ecology, to invertebrate surveys, to the testing of agricultural chemicals.  He has utilized basic field surveys to examine habitat and seasonal preferences of insects in the field and standard agricultural field trials to investigate crop protection products and the effects of insecticides on beneficial invertebrates such as earthworms and predatory lacewings.  His investigations into the interactions between herbivorous insects, such as aphids, and their host plants utilized state-of-the-art molecular methods such as mass spectrometry and nuclear magnetic resonance.  More recently Simon has developed an interest in using bootstrap methods to examine when sampling effort has reached acceptable levels in field studies of invertebrates (NZ spiders and Fijian moths) and in yield assessment of animal feed crops, such as fodder beet.

Contact Simon at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.



Dr Farhad Dastgheib, BSc (Iran), MSc (Lebanon), PhD (New Zealand)

Farhad has a long history in agricultural research and teaching. With a BSc from Iran and a Masters degree from American University of Beirut, Farhad completed a PhD in herbicide physiology and weed science at Lincoln University, New Zealand. Farhad has been working as a senior lecturer at Lincoln for over ten years and has also worked as a consultant in agriculture. He enjoys doing applied research and working with farmers, for farmers to provide practical solutions to various problems in weed management as well as other cropping and pastoral areas.

Farhad is happy to work with groups of farmers or private companies to prepare research proposals and find practices suitable for each situation. Read more about his consultancy in or contact him by sending an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


The Future Farming Centre has access to a very wide and deep range of science and extension expertise through its associates which include the BHU Organics Trust board members.

 Prof. Linton Winder

BSc (Hons.) Environmental Science and PhD (Southampton University).

Linton is an ecologist and entomologist. He did his PhD in the UK at Rothamsted Research Station and his main research interests focus on agricultural systems, particularly in relation to conservation biological control. He has spent most of his career in academia, having worked at the universities of Bournemouth, Plymouth and Exeter in the UK, the University of the South Pacific in the Fiji Islands and now Unitec in New Zealand, although he also worked for the UK’s Environment Agency early in his career.

 Recent projects include a partnership with the BHU and Pete Lockhart at Massey University to use new genomic tools to detect pests and diseases in horticultural crop, which has received funding from AGMARDT and the BioProtection Core. He is also interested in the way predatory beetles respond spatially and temporally to their prey. He has worked closely with statisticians (Joe Perry, Kelvin Conrad and Colin Alexander) who have developed methods for characterising spatial distributions of insects using SADIE (Spatial Analysis by Distance Indices). You can find out more about these methods by visiting Kelvin Conrad’s website: (

 Linton also works with colleagues in Fiji on a number of conservation-related projects.  He has research collaboration with Bill Aalbersberg and Marika Tuiwawa at the Institute of Applied Sciences at the University of the South Pacific, Hilda Waqa-Sakiti at the Department of Forestry and with Karen Mapusa and Stephen Hazelman at POETCom (Pacific Organic Ethical Trading Community).


Dr Tim Jenkins

Cert.Prof. Biol. Husb., BSc(Hons 1st Class), PhD

Associate Researcher FFC

Tim is former manager of the Biological Husbandry Unit and has lectured for five years at Lincoln University in organic agriculture. He has written regular, mainly technically based, columns in OrganicNZ, NZ Gardener and Canterbury Farming as well as numerous popular articles in a range of farming publications and academic journals. He is qualified in microbiology and has research interests in soil fertility, interactions between microorganisms, plants and animals, and general sustainable agricultural technologies. Tim has several years experience in intensive commercial growing and is the founding chairperson of Trees for Canterbury a community based native plant nursery and planting organisation with environmental and welfare aims. He has had several years of product development and technical transfer with Donaghys Industries Ltd.

Tim Jenkins

Dr Vesna Jenkins

 Dip Ing. Agriculture, MSc, PhD

Associate Researcher FFC

Vesna has qualifications in agronomy and meteorology with a PhD topic on climate change impacts on agriculture and farm-level adaptive responses. She has excellent research and project management skills and is trained in crop modelling, climatic risk and environmental sustainability, life cycle assessment (LCA) and geographical information systems (GIS). Research experience has included plant physiology and nutrient uptake. Vesna has experience in commercially growing and selling organic vegetables. She has a strong interest in sustainable agriculture, environmental impacts of agriculture and addressing climate change.
Vesna Jenkins

Dr Zhao-Xiang (Josh) Chai

B.Ag.Sc. (Hons), PhD

Associate Researcher FFC

After graduating with a Bachelor degree in Plant Protection in 1991 from Gansu Agricultural University, Lanzhou, China, Zhao-Xiang worked in plant pathology for 26 years, in China, Australia and New Zealand.  He completed a PhD in 2009 at Gansu Agricultural University, on diversity and taxonomy of Soil-borne Pythium spp. from semi-arid environments.

He has worked on a wide range of plant pathogens and bio-control agent including: Fusarium, Rhizoctonia, Pythium, Phytophthora, Septoria, Cercospora, Botrytis, Erysiphe, Peronospora, Puccinia, Trichothecium, Erwinia, Pseudomonas syringae pv. actinidiae, nematodes and Trichoderma. Host plants included grapevines, vegetables, arable crops, fruits, and forest trees.

He worked in the Ecosystem Sciences Division, CSIRO, Adelaide, Australia for 3 months in 2009, and in the Plant Pathology Division, Department of Agriculture and Food WA (DAFWA), Australia for a year from 2011 to 2012.

Zhao-Xiang worked in the Bio-Protection Research Centre, Lincoln, from February 2013 to February, 2017 as a laboratory assistant, production technician and research technician. He was involved in several key projects, including control of Pseudomonas syringae pv. actinidiae in kiwifruit, and control of foliar diseases and disorders of Pinus radiata in New Zealand forest nurseries and plantations.

Zhao-Xiang isolated and cultured Phytophthora infestans from potato tissue for The BHU Future Farming Centre.

 zhao xiang chai

Past staff

Our past staff are often still actively involved in the Future Farming Centre - often on collaborative projects.

Dr Marion Johnson

B.Ag.Sci , BSc Environmental. Biology (Ist Class Hons), MSc Vet. Paras., PhD

Marion has a background in sheep and cattle farming, spanning NZ, UK and Zambia. She then swapped gum boots for a desk and gained a Masters and PhD in Veterinary Parasitology.
Her current research grapples with the problems of declining animal health on many farms, believing that healthy stock thrive on healthy feed grown in healthy soils. She has searched for natural anthelminthics amongst our native plants, in consultation with Maori communities looked for animal health remedies from traditional medicines and worked with farmers to implement the principles of Agroecology. Farming within the constraints of the land, improving biodiversity and providing the best possible forage options for productivity are major drivers.

Marion is now working for the Organic Research Centre at Elm Farm in the UK