Dairy farming and climate change


Reducing on-farm emissions is a challenge facing the entire global food-producing sector, not just dairy. But as we’re a country more reliant on agriculture than others, and a country with a strong dairy backbone, it’s an issue that is becoming more and more pressing, not just in terms of public perception but the long-term sustainability of our industry itself.

According to an article published by Rural News Group, the Government is due to introduce a zero carbon bill in 2018 and make a call (via an independent climate commission) on whether agricultural emissions will face a price in the Emissions Trading Scheme.

The article talks of a recent visit to Wairarapa by Climate Change Minister James Shaw, where he said farmers needed to get a head start on regulations by looking at what mitigations can be adopted right now.

Engagement with the issue is high across the agricultural sector with representatives from so many farming sectors attending the Wairarapa meetings. It is positive to see an understanding that an integrated approach to addressing water quality, biodiversity and on-farm emissions is needed. Sometimes it feels like dairying gets the lion’s share of the blame when actually, many farmers are already implementing practices that are having a positive impact.

One dairy farm in Kaiwaiwai has halved the amount of water used and built a wetland to process nitrate runoff and reduce nitrous oxide emissions.

Other ways to make changes include:

  • Growing winter crops, cover crops and running a managed grazing regime
  • Keeping cows off-paddock in Autumn before winter rain washes nitrogen down into the soil (this is highly effective) or using off-paddock solutions strategically to capture the nitrogen. Read our article on the different types of feed pads and off-paddock options
  • Planting fenced riparian areas is great for many reasons: the plants filter carbon dioxide and act like at sieve, filtering out sediment and nutrients before they enter waterways; and it also helps prevent land erosion. Planting trees may also be a way forward should dairy fall under the ETS, ‘offsetting’ emissions. In fact, with a view to this happening in the next year and a bit, if your farm has an exotic or indigenous forests first established after 31 December 1989, you can voluntarily register it in the ETS to earn ‘credits’ (NZUs) now.
  • Don’t apply fertiliser in winter or to waterlogged soils, and soil test to ensure other nutrients are not limiting.

You’ll find some more suggestions on ways to reduce emissions and make dairy more sustainable in one of our articles from last year. And our friend Keith Woodford is also always keen to share an educated opinion or two on the subject.