Farmers committed to scientific solutions that achieve the goals of the Zero Carbon Act, ignoring the sideline sledging by the politicised green lobbyists. Active strategic change is required in pasture and animal management

Farmers committed to scientific solutions that achieve the goals of the Zero Carbon Act, ignoring the sideline sledging by the politicised green lobbyists. Active strategic change is required in pasture and animal management

The negative reaction to the methane target range in the Climate Change Amendment (Zero Carbon) Bill should not be taken as an indication the rural sector is at all opposed to the purpose of the Bill, nor does it suggest unwillingness to be part of the solution.

Industry bodies, including DairyNZ, B+LNZ, MIA and Federated Farmers, are fully committed to seeing their members do all that is realistically possible to achieve the overall greenhouse gas reduction target. This goal is seen by science organisations, such as the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), as essential, if the increase in the planet’s temperature is to be restricted to 1.5 degrees C by 2050.

However the New Zealand sector bodies are taking a strongly science based approach to the issue and they have concerns, particularly the extent of the maximum range for reducing methane emissions which are both unachievable and, according to the science, unnecessary. Greenpeace executive director, Russel Norman, among others only sees farmers trying to get a free ride at the expense of the rest of the country, using agriculture’s past resistance to being included in the ETS as evidence for his argument. The sector’s new commitment to making whatever changes are necessary demonstrates Norman’s suspicion is unfounded.

Farmers, not unnaturally, are worried about what all this means for the future of their business, not least whether they will still have a social licence to operate, and what they can do to meet the targets if they are adopted.

Scientists, like Director of Victoria University’s Climate Change Research Institute Professor Dave Frame, have welcomed the recognition of the difference between long-lived gases (CO2 and nitrous oxide) and short-lived (methane) and caution against getting too worked up about the actual targets at this stage. Specific targets to be adopted in legislation will be subject to plenty of debate and revision during the Select Committee process.

Frame’s research indicates 60% of methane’s effects disappear after 12 years and 95% after 50 years compared with CO2 which lasts in the atmosphere for 1000 years. Therefore, while all greenhouse gas reduction is good, it is far more important to focus on reducing what he terms ‘stock’ pollutants like CO2 and nitrous oxide, as distinct from ‘flow’ pollutants like methane. If the government’s goal is to reduce non-CO2 greenhouse gases by 35% by 2050, as recommended by the IPCC, the logic of the carbon zero target is irrefutable.

Achieving this will require a combination of zero nitrous oxide as a result of animal management and zero CO2 through tree planting, but more particularly it demands a major change in energy use, transport and urban pollution. A large proportion of these measures lies outside the scope of agriculture, if the targets are to be met. A 10% reduction in methane emissions in addition to zero nitrous oxide and CO2 would achieve a 33% emissions reduction, while increasing methane savings to 22% would increase the total reduction to 41%. This demonstrates the inequity of demanding a decrease in methane emissions to the higher range of 24-47%. Quite simply the long lasting nature of nitrous oxide and CO2 has a far greater influence on the amount of warming in the atmosphere.

Jeremy Baker, B+LNZ’s Chief Insight Officer, points to the emissions reduction of 30% since 1990 on sheep and beef farms as strong evidence of the red meat sector’s commitment to the goal, a result of greater efficiency and improved farm management, as well as reduced flock size. He claims the proposed targets in the Bill do not recognise the long term carbon sink benefits of native trees which can absorb carbon for 300 years, 10 times longer than pine trees. There are already 1.4 million hectares of natives planted on sheep and beef country which should be taken into account when setting targets and measuring performance. DairyNZ also advocates the recognition at the farm gate of all farmer efforts to reduce emissions, including tree planting.

DairyNZ is working with scientists on several strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In the case of methane, options are limited by New Zealand’s grass feeding regime, but research shows managing use of dry matter intake is critical, while brassica rape can produce a 30% emissions reduction, compared with a traditional ryegrass/white clover diet; fodder beet trials demonstrate a 20% reduction, but only when it makes up 70% of the diet. Nitrogen leaching can be mitigated by applying the right fertiliser in the right place at the right time, planting low nitrogen crops and improving pasture quality, as well as carefully planned paddock strategies in autumn and winter.

It is obvious the sector is totally on side with the government’s overall goal to meet New Zealand’s commitments under the Paris agreement. In no way is agriculture unwilling to ensure its farmers and processors are in possession of all the tools necessary to meet the target, but the sector wants fair and equitable treatment and recognition of the correct science underpinning that target. It will also be up to the government to devote funding to research which will be necessary to develop some of the solutions to the challenge.


Current schedule and saleyard prices are available in the right-hand menu of the Rural section of this website. This article was first published at Farmers Weekly and is here with permission.

Y Lamb

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I think this is the publication.
https://www.nature.com/articles/s41612-018-0026-8
It’s title suggests we need to undertake ambitious mitigation but are we?

GM & GE have potential to make a not insignificant difference in ag emmissions - if that is the path Ag wants to go e.g. GM rye grass that has to be researched in the US because NZ doesn't allow it. It is a question that needs to be asked of consumers. How much do you want NZ to reduce emissions if it means needing to use GM/GE technology to meet targets?
Mature wetlands are potentially carbon sinks. Immature wetlands aren't and wetlands are nitrous oxide emitters. What do you value most - biodiversity/water quality or GHG emission targets? These are some of the issues facing farmers that haven't been talked about. Do they put a wetland in and increase nitrous oxide emissions, or don't put one in and have less biodiversity on farm and/or potentially lower mitigation options for leaching? I would be interested in views from commentators on this especially as the govt is not allowing ag to be considered on net emissions, as every other industry is. What is more important to you, water quality or lower ghg emissions where one option is potentially detrimental for the other.

I go for the much more of every mitigation option except GM, don’t see early emissions from wetlands as an issue, just part of decay, like a compost heap, I’m in favour of compost.
I equate GM with glyphosphate, they promise a brave new world for the farmers but not the consumers, consumers are running scared of the effects on their health.

As a NZ consumer, it sounds like it's your problem and I don't have to do anything. All my ghg are sorted by planting a Gorillian trees. I don't like farmers much because TV says they are bad polluters and all our environmental issues can be traced back to dirty dairying! You should just give up farming and educate yourself so you can be a productive part of society.

Yeah right m8, you sit in your lovely house dropping your crap into the harbours and atmosphere and leave it up to us dum farmers to sort out the future of the world!!!! How quickly the clowns forget what NZ has been made from................

We will probably be overtaken by events.

It is doubtful that global trading as we've known it, will continue. It is doubtful our access to fossil fuels transcends the whole period. And it is doubtful imported resources will keep coming.

Which changes the outlook for farming - or better put, food production. The debt - regardless of who carries the parcel when the music stops - is unrepayable, and how that plays out is anyone's guess.

But aiming for full nutrient-return (city to paddock, or at least people to paddock) is probably the biggest need for research/action. Different conversation I know, but I doubt we can keep having the current one.

Perhaps to make the farmers comfortable we need a new producer board responsible for
Intangibles such as Carbon credits and downstream added value,
Such as honey, other nectars, charcoal, small goods such as whoohho grubs, resins, truffles,
And credited with appropriate UN credits for saving the planet.

UN credits - I thought they were broke ;-)

That came from s notion that carbon credits are a tradable commodity without geographic limitations.
That considers pdk’ comments
There maybe many tradeable intangibles in the future, such as a functional wetland supporting the oceans
The producer board would give the farmers contributing a familiar structure

Some countries are already limiting geographic trading. I have always had a certain amount of cynicism around environmental trading credits. Due to nitrogen trading there are now more cows around Lake Taupo than there were before. Is trading really a positive for the environment or does it simply allow emitters to continue to emit unabated - especially those who can pass their costs on (unlike farmers)?

I would expect simultaneously carbon taxes and carbon credits, depending on the country and emitter.
Lots of initiatives and lots of effort I hope, then we can use the optimistic projections data.