Wednesday, 17 February 2021 09:55

DairyNZ sets the record straight

Written by  Peter Burke
Climate Change Commission chair Rod Carr Climate Change Commission chair Rod Carr

DairyNZ has launched a major public information programme to give farmers an accurate assessment of the Climate Change Commissions report and exactly what it will mean for them.

Since the report was published about a fortnight ago, there is inaccurate information being circulated by some media commentators and other organisations and individuals.

DairyNZ has already put out several media statements, and in a newsletter put out to farmers it says farmers should go to the DairyNZ website to get the correct information. One of the key myths being widely spread is that the Commission is proposing a target of reducing stock numbers by 15%. This is not correct according to the chairman of CCC Rod Carr. 

“There has been a bit of focus claiming the commission had set a target for reducing flocks and herds and the numbers of animals. That’s not a target we are setting. We are saying that with land-use change, the de-intensification as a result of the water regulations and some of the opportunities to get more production from the residual 85% of flocks means that we will be able to produce as much milk and meat  as we produce today but with fewer animals. That raises the question, do few fewer animals create more methane so you don’t really get the reduction. The answer is, this does not appear to be the case,” he says.

This is backed up in DairyNZ’s statement to its farmers in which it says ‘if stock numbers were to be reduced this would not be a blanket rule across all farms and would more likely be driven by some farmers choosing to convert to horticulture’.

Again DairyNZ and Carr are on the same page about the issue of whether farmer are being picked on by the Commission. The industry good organisation says that all New Zealanders are being asked to reduce their carbon footprint and that dairy farmers are not the only ones being asked to change.

Carr says agriculture has a large role to play in reducing emissions and farming needs to become even more efficient. He says while improvements have been made in the last decades, more can happen.

“I think the ask of agriculture is similar to all New Zealanders, is that it is ambitious and realistic,” he says.

The nearly 200 page report provides a roadmap for how NZ will achieve the target of net zero emissions by 2050 covering all sectors of the NZ economy – not just agriculture. This is a draft report and this is now up for consultation with submissions closing on March 14.

DairyNZ has stated that it will be making a submission on behalf of the industry and says it will support individual farmers to prepare their own submissions. It is working with sector partners such as Beef+Lamb NZ and Federated Farmers to get alignment on key issues and keep strong communications going in the coming weeks.

DairyNZ chief executive Tim Mackle says they are still working through the detail of the Commission’s report. He says at a high level they are comfortable with the report.

“But the devil is always in the detail and we are going through the report with a fine toothcomb and will push back firmly on points we disagree with. We also want to get feedback and questions from our farmers to help frame its submission. Once we have these we will try and answer these in a special webinar we will be holding on March 4,” he says.

Complex policy

Overall Tim Mackle says it is encouraging to see the recommendations to Government to focus on R&D and rural broadband as solutions to support agriculture to reduce emissions.

He says climate policy is incredibly complex and science sits at its core. He says the Commission’s science-based approach is ambitious and challenging for all of New Zealand and farming is no exception.

“We will be looking at what this advice could mean for dairy farmers and how the Government will partner to support our sector through this transition. Our farmers have already started making practice changes on-farm, along with introducing Farm Environment Plans. We will continue to push into this and leverage science and technology to support us on the journey,” he says

Mackle says DairyNZ welcomes the acknowledgement of a split gas approach and that methane does not need to reduce to net zero.

He says DairyNZ invests around $1 million a year into climate change emissions reduction research, mainly through the Pastoral Greenhouse Gas Research Consortium, and works closely with the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre (NZAGRC).

Funding for science

Speaking to Dairy News, Rod Carr claims there is a number of ways that the agriculture sector can reduce emissions and some are already being done.

Such things as breeding animals with traits which they see them produce less emissions and developing grasses and crops that do the same.

He says sheep industry has been very good at this and the dairy industry needs to do more in this regard.

There is talk of things such as the development of methane inhibitors and vaccines and other technologies that could reduce emissions, but Carr adds these are not yet available. The Commission is placing significant emphasis on the development and adoption of technology but Carr has a caveat on that.

“We must ensure that the rural broadband initiative is resourced and prioritised so that farmers have access to data and information to support decision making and the ability to practise precision agriculture,” he says.

A view incidentally that DairyNZ strongly supports.

Carr also suggests that priorities for science funding may need to be made to ensure climate change related science is undertaken to meet the emissions targets.

“We need to make sure that if we have good science we roll it out. There is temptation for the science community to be looking for the next best thing whereas we know the real benefits come when the last good thing is adopted widely. It’s not only publicising the science, it’s about having people out there with farmers, getting mud on their boots and working out specific solutions for individual farms,” he says.

There is considerable mention in the report about the need for the ag sector to embrace the changes proposed and notes that unless they do there could be resistance from consumers to products that don’t have a low carbon footprint.

Alternatively Carr warns that countries that we export to may impose restrictions on such products.

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