NZ Farmer - DairyNZ says farmers can take some hot air out of greenhouse gas emissions by managing herds

DairyNZ is telling farmers they need to reduce their greenhouse gas production to meet consumer and political demands.

The industry good organisation accepts the demands by food consumers for a smaller environmental footprint by farmers cannot be ignored.

Scientists from DairyNZ and AgResearch talked to about 65 rural professionals including farm advisors, accountants and bankers at a Manawatu workshop as part of a greenhouse gas seminar tour from Northland to Southland.

DairyNZ analyst Kara Lok said New Zealand only caused 0.16 per cent of global warming, but it combined with other small countries to make up 30 per cent of all greenhouse gases.The big emitters were China, the United States and India.

She said New Zealand might only have a small proportion of greenhouse gas production, but its responsibilities could not be ignored.

New Zealand had signed up for a 30 per cent reduction in greenhouse gases in the Paris Agreement. Emissions savings have to be made on 2005 levels and must be in place by 2020.

Lok said New Zealand's profile was unlike any other country, with about half the emissions coming from agriculture.

She said the government could lower greenhouse gas emissions through buying carbon credits, encouraging electric cars were adopted and by planting more trees.

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Lok said dairy's greenhouse gas footprint stood at almost half of all New Zealand's agricultural emissions.

"In dairying 85 per cent is on-farm, 10 per cent in processing and five per cent in transport. If we want to tackle GHG in dairying, then most of it needs to happen on-farm."

She said it was vital that farming should be part of the answer regardless of who won the election. DairyNZ and Fonterra were working together to reduce dairying GHG regardless.of the result.

"And we have Labour and Greens saying farming could be included in any GHG deal.  And consumers too are interested in where their food comes from and its [environmental] footprint."

DairyNZ environment extension specialist Nicholas Tait said  greenhouse gases were human-made and real.

"The earth has had its hottest 10 years just past, It has been the highest temperatures we experienced for more than eight centuries.

"If there is no mitigation of greenhouse gas, we will see a 2.6 to 4.8 degree centigrade rise.That's what we're on track for, and it is the greatest issue facing humans."

He said the only benefit of global warming might come in Southland, or Stewart Island.

Tait said there was no silver bullet, and mitigation would come from different methods.

AgResearch's Dr Kirsty Hammond said methane vaccine numbershad gone from nine to four after testing, and they showed promise. 

She said the idea was a farmer would vaccinate animals to inhibit methanogens in the rumen, but it was difficult science and any vaccine was seven to 10 years from being available.

AgResearch principal scientist, Dr Cecile de Klein said farmers could manage their dairy farms to reduce greenhouse gases by increasing the genetic merit of their herds, reducing cow numbers and replacement stocking rates, as well as improving animal health and reproduction.

She said feeding kale to cows also reduced their greenhouse gas emissions.

"The management option is to reduce the replacement rate.  At the moment it is 22 or 23 per cent. Modelling and farmlet trials suggest reducing the rate to about 18 per cent ...  can reduce GHG emissions by 2-11 per cent."

DairyNZ's Logan Bowler who took the workshop, said the take home messages were that farmers could use some mitigations now.

"Start having these conversations with farmers about on-farm emissions and what can be done.  DairyNZ has committed to increasing knowledge and awareness among rural professionals, so they can go out and talk to farmers.  And we are looking for rural professionals and farmers to take part in an on-farm project."

Under its dairy action for climate change, DairyNZ wants to find 12 climate change dairy farmer champions from across the country and establish 10 partnership farms across a range of farm systems throughout New Zealand.