NZ Farmer - Farmers should benefit from calls for greater transparency around food production

Consumer demands for more transparency in food production are expected to bring greater rewards for New Zealand farmers demonstrating good environmental stewardship.

The push for more transparency came from a growing interest in how food was produced, Ministry for Primary Industries' director general Martyn Dunne told delegates at the International Tri-Conference for Precision Agriculture in Hamilton on October 16.

Farmers were increasingly being asked to demonstrate high standards for animal welfare, water management and food safety.

"For us, it's fundamental to our prosperity," he said.

Many farmers were already meeting these standards and this transparency could bring recognition and rewards from consumers.

Precision agriculture would be a "material part" of the answer to some of agriculture's environmental challenges, he said.

New Zealand was not unique in its struggles with environmental pressures such as greenhouse gases and its impacts on farming were often misinterpreted.

New Zealand accounted for less than 0.2 per cent of total global emissions. It's land resources were the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions and agricultural emissions from methane and nitrous oxide accounted for nearly half of the country's emissions in 2015, he said.

"This makes our emissions profile unique amongst developed countries, unique in the fact that our emissions from energy production are very low because we have so much renewable resources."

New Zealand farmers were among the most efficient and productive in the world and had greatly improved their emissions around production efficiency by about one per cent per year, he said.

"They have done this by improving in four main areas: feed and nutrition, animal genetics, pasture management and animal health.

 "Although agricultural emissions have grown by 16 per cent since 1990, they would have increased by more than 40 per cent if it wasn't for the efforts of our farmers."

That point was often lost by farming's critics, Dunne said.

There had been similar efficiencies made in milk's carbon footprint, which was 60 per cent better than the world average.

"This means that producing food in New Zealand was far more efficient than in other parts of the world and requires less resources."

He said it was an ongoing effort to reduce primary production's greenhouse gas intensity and scientists were working on ways to reduce animal emissions.

On water, there needed to be clear and scientifically strong requirements for limits.

He said great progress had been made with 97 per cent of streams fenced on dairy farms and managing of nutrient leaching was a key focus of precision agriculture.