Dairy industry to test cutting greenhouse gas emissions at farm level

Research on livestock has been carried out in laboratories; now scientists are going to test greenhouse gas emissions on ...
DAVID UNWIN / FAIRFAX NZ

Research on livestock has been carried out in laboratories; now scientists are going to test greenhouse gas emissions on farm.

The dairy industry is stepping up moves to curb greenhouse gas emissions using "farmer champions" who will show other farmers the steps that can be taken.

In pilot trials, 100 farmers will have their livestock methane emissions recorded as part of environmental performance reporting, and 60 rural professionals will be trained in Massey University's greenhouse gas course.

The Dairy Action for Climate change plan, spearheaded by DairyNZ, was welcomed by Green Party co-leader James Shaw when it was announced at the latest Fieldays in Hamilton.

Green Party co-leader James Shaw talks to organic dairy farmer Gina Williams at the Fieldays in Hamilton.
DOMINICO ZAPATA/FAIRFAX NZ

Green Party co-leader James Shaw talks to organic dairy farmer Gina Williams at the Fieldays in Hamilton.

"It's going to start to measure what is happening on farms. It's going to take this massive challenge of climate change right down to the farm level," he said.

READ MORE: Climate change 'most serious' environmental issue for New Zealand - report
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DairyNZ chief executive Dr Tim Mackle said addressing on-farm emissions – methane, which is formed when ruminant animals burp, and nitrous oxide, formed when nitrogen escapes into the atmosphere – was one of the most challenging issues facing the dairy and food producing sectors.

"The dairy industry is showing some leadership, although we and Fonterra have been already investing for over a decade in science," Mackle said.

"There's a limit to what farmers can do right now which is why science and innovation is a key.  The pilot farms will help us understand what is happening on farms and how that relates to profitability."

"Dairy environment leaders have been doing a lot around water; we now want to get them mobilised around this," Mackle said.

Fonterra's chief operating officer farm source, Miles Hurrell, said the plan complemented the environmental commitment dairy farmers had voluntarily undertaken through their work under the Sustainable Dairying: Water Accord.

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"What I'm seeing is real collaboration across industry and government to make a difference. We've already been inundated with feedback from farmers, they want to be part of this issue."

Shaw criticised the Government for not having an overall target for reducing agricultural emissions, but "credit where it's due, the fact DairyNZ and Fonterra have teamed up to say let's see how the science works, which is a good thing. What gets measured gets managed," Shaw said.

He predicted some of the younger generation of farmers concerned with climate change and the state of rivers and who embraced new technologies, might say 'I'd like to be in that crowd'.

"Being part of that experimental group will start to yield some interesting information and that will have benefits to do with productivity and pricing.

"But you won't get any significant movement until you start to price emissions. It's also skewing investment to have the exception [of agriculture] at the moment," Shaw said.

The measures will be rolled out in three stages, from June to November 2018.

The first stage, between June 2017 and November 2018 will include:

• Hosting eight rural professional climate change workshops to build awareness and provide information on the mitigation options available;

• Identifying 12 climate change dairy farmer champions to raise awareness and mobilise change;

• Hosting six discussion groups on climate change with DairyNZ's dairy environment leaders.

In the second stage, by February 2018 DairyNZ, with the support of the Ministry for Primary Industries, and the Ministry for the Environment, will:

• Characterise and implement farm system changes which have the potential to reduce biological emissions on dairy farms;

• Establish 10 partnership farms across a range of farm systems.

In the third stage, by November 2018, Fonterra will:

• Undertake a greenhouse gas on-farm recording pilot involving up to 100 Fonterra suppliers which provides each farmer with a GHG report which includes methane as part of environmental performance reporting they already receive from Fonterra.

• Share general findings from the pilot with plan partners and the Ministry for the Environment and the Ministry for the Primary Industries.

 - Stuff

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