Substantial R&D investment for dairy to meet climate goals

26 March 2021

A robust R&D plan is needed to support climate change solutions while maintaining New Zealand’s position as a world-leading sustainable dairy producer, according to DairyNZ.

The industry good body is calling for a long-term plan and ongoing investment into climate change science and solutions, in its submission on the Climate Change Commission’s carbon budgets proposal.

This would include targeted research and development of new technologies to reduce biogenic methane emissions.

“To accelerate the changes underway already, we need to work with Government, our research partners and other sectors,” said DairyNZ chief executive Dr Tim Mackle. “Solutions, while keeping farmers at the top of their game, will require support and investment from the Government and agriculture.”

He said the transition to a low emissions economy must be grounded in science, economic and social considerations. In its submission, DairyNZ said that the draft carbon budgets does some of those things, but not all.

Positives include the split gas approach, the He Waka Eke Noa partnership and investment for better rural digital connectivity. However, DairyNZ holds concerns – including the proposed shifting of the goalposts to higher than the Zero Carbon Act, the pathway for biogenic methane being unrealistic and the Commission’s underlying assumptions requiring further work.

“Kiwi dairy farmers are world-leaders in sustainable and low emissions dairy products, but we need to continue making improvements behind the farm gate to keep pace with changing community and consumer expectations.”

Dr Mackle said farmers are committed but need practical approaches, with pragmatic timeframes. “Farmers also want confidence the goalposts won’t continue to shift, if they make significant investment and changes to how they farm.”

DairyNZ has modelled the proposal’s potential impacts on rural communities. If the recommendations are adopted, by 2035 milk production could fall 7-13 percent and 34 percent of farms could go backwards financially, with flow-on consequences for GDP.

“We are concerned the Commission’s economic modelling isn’t realistic and the assumptions don’t properly capture the true cost,” said Dr Mackle.

“The Commission significantly underestimates the economic impacts and DairyNZ has forecast milk production to reduce under these proposals. However the Commission has assumed stock numbers will reduce, along with land use and methane – but milk production will stay the same.

“The national cost shouldn’t be an excuse for inaction, but New Zealanders need to go into this with eyes wide open and an understanding of the true costs, to make informed decisions about where we target our investment.”

DairyNZ is also concerned the recommended carbon budget goes beyond the Zero Carbon Act – lifting the reduction of methane from 10 percent to 13 percent.

“This effectively increases the scale of our challenge. The Commission’s pathway for biogenic methane also requires significant changes on farms and rapid technological breakthroughs, that we are not confident will be achieved in such a short timeframe.

“We are fortunate the split gas approach better characterises the difference between long-lived and short-lived gases. This science-based target recognises farmers do not need to reduce biogenic methane emissions to net-zero to do their part to reduce warming.”

Dr Mackle said future solutions for biogenic methane can benefit farming and give flexibility to New Zealand’s overall pathway to the 2050 targets.

He acknowledged the Commission’s reference to the success of He Waka Eke Noa, the partnership between the primary sector, Government and Māori to reduce emissions and enable sustainable food and fibre production for future generations.

“We are committed to this partnership and believe it will achieve our shared objectives of managing and reducing emissions on farm.”

Read DairyNZ’s full Climate Change Commission report submission at www.dairynz.co.nz/carbon-budgets.

Media inquiries:

Vanessa Feaver

Senior Media Manager

Phone 027 836 6295

Vanessa.feaver@dairynz.co.nz

Ali Tocker

Senior Media Specialist

Phone 027 364 7532

Ali.Tocker@dairynz.co.nz

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