Dairy farming and climate change

Page - March 11, 2008

NZ dairy cows.

What's wrong with dairy?

The majority of agricultural emissions in New Zealand come from the dairy sector. The dairy industry is responsible for the entire increase in greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector since 1990. Indeed, had dairy related emissions remained constant at their 1990 level, New Zealand's agriculture sector emissions would have actually fallen, because of the decrease in sheep industry emissions and the negligible increase in emissions from beef and other agricultural activities.

The dairy-climate change dilemma in New Zealand is two-fold. Not only does the dairying itself  have a hugely negative impact on the climate, but because of high commodity prices and ever-increasing returns for farmers, there has been a clamber to convert land to dairy. In many instances, this means clearing forests to make way for pasture. So the climate receives a double-blow. Carbon contained in the trees is released when they're cut down, and then the dairying practice itself releases huge amounts of greenhouse gases in the form of methane and nitrous oxide.

Greenpeace is not proposing that those already farming stop, but rather that the current dairy expansion be halted and better practices be implemented on existing farms. We are calling for farmers to work towards sustainable farming methods that reduce emissions.  We need to incentivise these changes by placing a price on emissions and rewarding practices that reduce emissions.  

Agriculture is the backbone of our economy, and we need to make sure it stays that way and is not sacrificed for short-term gains through unsustainable farming practices.