NZ Farmer - Dairy emissions Ambassadors take on climate change

Written by Heather Chalmers

A handpicked selection of 15 dairy farmers from throughout New Zealand have been chosen to lead by example and reduce cow greenhouse gas emissions on their farms.  

Nearly half of New Zealand's emissions come from agriculture, mainly methane from cows burping.

DairyNZ has selected the farmers to be climate change ambassadors to help dairy farmers understand the challenge of climate change, new scientific research and environmental changes they can make on their farms.  

"These 15 men and women all represent best environmental farming practice for their farm system," said DairyNZ chief executive Tim Mackle. "They run their farms profitably and sustainably and are serious about reducing on-farm greenhouse gas emissions.

"Many farmers are already leading with environmental practices, but these 15 people have taken it a step further. They have not only been ahead of the game, but have undertaken to share their knowledge and learning with others.

"Rather than focusing on cow numbers, we want to focus on how we can continue to improve the sustainability of New Zealand's agricultural sector," said Mackle. 

The Government has proposed a staged introduction of agriculture into the Emissions Trading Scheme from 2020, in which farmers would have to pay for their animals' emissions, likely to cost the industry hundreds of millions of dollars per year.

Identified through DairyNZ's dairy environment leaders programme, the climate change ambassadors were already involved in a range of initiatives, including improving water quality, reviewing their farm system to reduce its environmental footprint, and working at a grass-roots level with their community to achieve better outcomes for the environment and farming.

"New Zealand is already one of the lowest emission producers of dairy in the world. But for New Zealand to achieve its 2030 target, we must look at ways to reduce all gases across all sectors."

"This isn't just about dairy – all sectors need to scrutinise the way they operate. Only together can we help New Zealand transition to a low carbon economy," said Mackle. 

The ambassadors are: Aidan Bichan from Wairarapa; Andrew Booth, Northland; Devon Slee and Theona Blom, Canterbury; Earle Wright, Auckland; Fraser McGougan, Bay of Plenty; George Moss, Jacqui Hahn and John Hayward, Waikato; Keith Riley, Horizons; Kevin Hall and Dean Alexander, Southland; Trish Rankin, Taranaki; Vern Brasell, Wairarapa; and Wayne Langford, Golden Bay.   

Blom and her husband Johan farm in partnership with Southern Pastures on Kowhai Farm between Hororata and Rakaia in Canterbury.  They farm an all-grass system, with 900 cows on an effective milking platform of 236 hectares. "I want to make a difference in the community and share with other dairy farmers that it is possible to balance the social, ecological and financial aspects of dairy farming," said Blom.

"I'm excited to be a climate change ambassador. I see this as an opportunity, not only to contribute to the community, but to learn how to fine-tune the balance of our own farm."

Slee and her husband Mark farm 2700 cows near Ashburton, a farm which is used by Lincoln University to measure performance and profitability. The Slees won the supreme award at the 2014 Balance Farm Environment Awards.

"Dairy farming can remain profitable when environmental initiatives are adopted to protect the environment," said Slee. "We have made extensive investments into native planting, irrigation infrastructure and technologies that promote both water and nutrient use.

"Efficient use of resources drives environmental sustainability on our farm and we keep-up-to-date with environmental developments in the sector."