New Zealand is unique amongst developed countries in that almost half of our greenhouse gas emissions come from the agriculture sector. One third of these emissions are from nitrous oxide (from livestock urine, manure and artificial fertiliser) and two-thirds come from methane (primarily from livestock burping…the infamous "fart" tax was in fact a misnomer).
New Zealand's agriculture sector emits more greenhouse gases than all transport combined.
But despite making up almost 50 per cent of all the country's emissions, despite the fact agricultural emissions are rising, and despite the fact agricultural production is becoming less and less efficient compared to other countries, agriculture is exempt from taking any responsibility for its emissions. Currently nothing is being done to prevent the rapid expansion and industrialisation of the dairy industry.
Some in the agricultural industry argue that a scientific breakthrough is needed before we can make any headway with greenhouse gas emissions and that the only way for farmers to reduce emissions now is to reduce production. This is simply not true.
There are a number of practices being implemented by a growing number of New Zealand farmers that can help to reduce agricultural emissions. These practices focus on finding more sustainable ways to look after soil in order to reduce the amount of chemical nitrogen fertilisers and superphosphates required. Simple changes in animal grazing practices such as leaving more residual grass cover in pasture can have a dramatic effect on long term soil health and thus reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We are calling this approach 'Smart Farming'
The New Zealand agricultural sector has an opportunity to lead the world in low greenhouse emission farming through the adoption of best practice measures that are already available and starting to be implemented on farms in New Zealand.
Like every other export sector, the farming industry should be itching to get out in front of a new wave of economic opportunity that is fueled by consumer concern over climate.
Being clean and green is starting to count when a product hits shelves overseas and all our exporters should be doing everything they can to corner and monopolise that high end of the market. If short-term unsustainable farming practices continue unchecked then the clean and green New Zealand farming image will become tainted and less attractive to global consumers.
Agriculture can and should be part of the solution to reducing our emissions. We need to be farming better, and in a sustainable way that allows us to produce truly clean and green food for generations to come.