NZ Farmer - Sheep and beef farmers aim to be carbon neutral by 2050

Every sheep and beef farmer will have a tailored environment plan by the end of 2021 and they aim to be carbon neutral by 2050 in a new Beef + Lamb NZ (B+LNZ) strategy.

The industry-good organisation wants to lift the environmental performance of sheep and beef farming with its blueprint unveiled on Wednesday.

B+LNZ's priority areas are healthy productive soils, thriving biodiversity, reducing carbon emissions and cleaner water.

Individual environment plans for farmers and the 2050 goal of carbon neutrality across the industry are included in the strategy. Farmers believe they can further reduce greenhouse gas emissions from sheep and beef farms on top of the 30 per cent reduction from 1990 levels.

Over the next three years sheep and beef farmers will be supported by a programme to help communities target water quality, greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity, and soil health issues.

Farm plans will be developed that take in the four priorities and make available new tools and technology, support, advice and research.

B+LNZ chief executive Sam McIvor said sheep and beef farmers had the opportunity to be world-leading stewards of the natural environment. 

"Sheep and beef farmers have made meaningful improvements to their environmental performance and lowering emissions and they deserve credit for these gains. However, farmers know there is more to be done – not just extending the good work already underway, but also taking new and different approaches."

The organisation sees farmers adopting new management techniques to improve their environmental performance and using more farm monitoring and measuring to let them know it is working.

"This blueprint is about supporting sheep and beef farmers to manage their properties to improve freshwater, helping them to continue to reduce emissions and provide habitats that support biodiversity and protect our native species," said McIvor. "We will also be working hard to ensure land use is closely matched to soil potential and capability. That will mean soil health, carbon content and productivity will improve while minimising soil erosion and loss to water ways."

Funding from the Ministry for the Environment will be used to work with farmers in four priority catchments to scale up the actions of individual farmers.

Chairman Andrew Morrison said the sheep and beef sector had made major productivity and eco-efficiency gains since the 1990s and was now producing more from less.

"We've reduced sheep numbers from 57.9 million to 27.6 million and beef cattle numbers have declined 23 per cent. Absolute greenhouse gas emissions from sheep and beef farms are 30 per cent below 1990 levels while the sector's contribution to GDP has doubled to $5 billion. GHG emissions per kilogram of saleable product have dropped by 40 per cent and nitrate leaching per kilogram of saleable product has declined by 21 per cent.

He said New Zealanders were concerned about the declining natural environment and the climate changing and they were concerns shared by farmers.

"Consumers are expecting more, and disruptive technologies are challenging our existing systems and processes ... Agriculture is inextricably linked to the natural environment, which means how we farm today will directly affect what's left for tomorrow. Our sheep and beef farmers fully understand this and are determined to be part of the solution."

Nearly half of New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture.

Forest & Bird climate advocate Adelia Hallett said sheep and beef farmers had risen to the challenge of limiting warming to no more than 1.5 degrees and lowering emissions was essential to keep climate change to a minimum.

"For years, we've been making exceptions for the agricultural sector, and treating it as if it can't change when it comes to emissions, said Hallett. "That attitude can't go on if we are to have a climate in which people and nature can thrive. B+LNZ is proving it is possible for the agriculture sector to make meaningful reductions in emissions. We challenge other agricultural sectors to follow their lead."