Feeding the world’s growing population
New Zealand’s reputation as a quality food producer is growing.
The Fertiliser Association of New Zealand promotes and encourages responsible and scientifically-based nutrient management.
More than 15,000 New Zealanders and organisations have had their say on the Government's proposals for the Zero Carbon Bill. The agricultural sector was among these voices and expressed clear support for a target for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The question is, what target is realistic for the sector and what is the best way to achieve it?
The Fertiliser Association is a member of the Biological Emissions Reference Group (BERG), chaired by the Ministry of Primary Industries and DairyNZ. Its recent report sets out the evidence on what the sector can do on-farm to reduce emissions and assess the costs and opportunities. Based on the discussions that have taken place, the Fertiliser Association feels that any new policies that are introduced will need to support farmers' and growers' decisions on the ground. Any regulated measures will need to be both manageable and achievable. It will be important to enable farmers to retain clear control and flexibility over how they manage their farms to respond to policy and market signals into the future.
New Zealand's total agricultural greenhouse gas emissions have increased since 1990 as overall production has grown in response to international demand. However, it is worth noting that New Zealand farms have already achieved enormous efficiency gains and are considered leading edge globally. According to the BERG report, released this month, sheep, beef and dairy farmers have made considerable improvements to the way they have delivered their products since 1990. They have made improvements to feed and nutrition, animal genetics and pasture management, and increased their use of technology and information. Without these improvements, agricultural emissions would have risen by almost 40 percent. Instead they grew by 16 percent and, since 2005, total agricultural emissions have remained relatively constant.
There is significant research and development underway to provide options for farmers to further reduce their on-farm emissions. The Pastoral Greenhouse Gas Research Consortium has been researching the creation of a methane vaccine and methane inhibitors for livestock. The dairy industry is also playing its part through the 2017 Dairy Action for Climate Change strategy. This includes commitments to building capability of rural professionals through professional training courses, raising the awareness of farmers, and undertaking dairy farm greenhouse gas pilot case studies. The Nutrient Management Adviser Certification Programme, an industry-wide certification programme targeted at those who provide nutrient management advice to New Zealand farmers, has introduced an endorsement for greenhouse gas mitigation for advisers.
It's measures such as these that will begin to make a difference.
So, how much further can we take it? The key word in this puzzle is innovation. The fertiliser industry will continue to work across the sectors on precision farming and nutrient efficiency, with a focus on adopting new technologies to achieve reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. It will be impossible to achieve change overnight.
A key consideration of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change is to reduce global emissions while still providing for food security. We need to bring the world with us on this issue. No other countries currently have regulated for agricultural emissions. As New Zealand is likely to be the first to introduce regulations, the trade risk is very real. We don't want to be displaced in our key markets by cheaper products from other countries that have a higher carbon footprint. Until comparable regulation is introduced for the majority of trading partners internationally the agricultural industry will require some level of protection.
There is real potential for New Zealand to be world leaders in managing agricultural emissions. We have the opportunity to help write the rule book and develop viable solutions, rather than have unfavourable solutions imposed on our New Zealand economy. In the short term we need to build systems that enable us to understand our emissions and the reductions that are possible.
This transition will only be possible with clear signals, good advice, innovation, smart choices and New Zealand's customers placing value on our efficient production systems. New Zealand's challenge will be to provide support to the primary sector during this time of transition to achieve the best outcomes, both for our farmers, our growers and for our planet.