environment

Farmers want to reduce emissions but don’t know how

 If a large number of farmers adopted currently available options to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, they could achieve up to a 10 percent reduction in biological emissions from pasture-based livestock.

That’s according to a new report from the Biological Emissions Reference Group (BERG), which is made up of a number of farming groups, including Beef + Lamb NZ, DairyNZ and Fonterra, and the Ministries for the Environment and Primary Industries.

While stressing that the results of BERG’s work shouldn’t be used to drive policy, the report also found that two-thirds of farmers believe New Zealand agriculture should reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to help combat global climate change.

Despite such a high level of buy-in, the report also found 98 percent of farmers don’t know the greenhouse emission rates from their farm and 97 percent underestimated the gas emission rates from an average farm.

And 42 percent weren’t aware of mitigation strategies they could adopt to reduce emissions, other than planting trees.

The report found the ability of farmers to implement farm management practices that could reduce emissions varies widely from those who could achieve such reductions easily and without significant negative impacts on profitability to those where the impact could be large.

“A greater than 10 percent reduction in absolute biological emissions will likely require a combination of on-farm mitigation and land-use change,” the report said.

Currently available mitigation options include improving productivity per animal, going to once-a-day milking and planting trees on marginal land.

Farmers are likely to adopt such practices if emissions are priced and the rate of adoption increases with higher prices, it found.

Potential technologies for greenhouse gas emission reductions, such as a methane vaccine and/or a methane inhibitor from grazing systems, and all other options could reduce overall biological emissions by 10-21 percent by 2030 and by 22-48 percent by 2050.

The report found experts have low confidence such a vaccine, which could reduce biogenic methane by 30 percent, could be available by 2030 but a medium-to-high confidence one could be available by 2050.

They have a medium-to-high confidence that an inhibitor could be available by 2030 that would deliver a 10-30 percent reduction in biogenic methane and a high confidence such an inhibitor will deliver a 30-50 percent reduction by 2050.

“Farmers were asking what practical things they can do to reduce emissions. We needed to improve our shared understanding of the possible innovation and solutions and the barriers standing in farmers’ way,” said MPI deputy director Penny Nelson on releasing the report.

DairyNZ chief executive Tim Mackle said the findings “highlight the need for good information and tailored advice for farmers.

“There is no single answer to reducing emissions – we’ll need a combination of solutions tailored to land and farm types.”

The report should help farmers, government and advisors “to steer the right path and understand the possible costs.”

Beef + Lamb chief executive Sam McIvor said his farmers have already made progress in reducing emissions and improving productivity “and are committed to continuing on this journey.”

BERG commissioned nine new research projects in preparing its report and it plans to host an event in early 2019 to discuss the analysis and findings in more depth.

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