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.
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.
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.
He has extensive knowledge of the fundamentals of soil management, including nutrient management and soil biology and ecology.
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
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.
Merf is also a founder, director and shareholder in PhysicalWeeding with Tim Chamberlain, that specialises in non-chemical weeding machinery and advice.