Federated Farmers Southland vice-president Bernadette Hunt said a global and national focus is needed for solutions to climate change rather than short-sighted conversion of highly productive grassland to trees, horticulture or crops.
Federated Farmers Southland branch says it supports efforts to improve emissions efficiency, but have concerns that reducing 10 per cent of livestock may come at a cost to food production.
In a new Ernst & Young report titled Net Zero Southland, the agricultural, transport and industrial sectors were targeted as areas requiring significant change to meet the goal set by the New Zealand government of net zero emissions by 2050.
The report states that agriculture currently contributes to 69 per cent of Southland’s emissions.
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Goals for agriculture include a 10 per cent stock reduction in dairy cattle, beef cattle and sheep applied linearly from 2035 to 2050. It also encourages farmers to consider adopting selective breeding of dairy cattle, beef cattle and sheep that exhibit low residual methane production.
Federated Farmers Southland vice-president Bernadette Hunt said while it supported efforts to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, it was important to note that the majority of agriculture related to food production.
The internationally binding Paris Agreement on climate change, which New Zealand is a signatory too, specifically states that meeting targets should not come at a cost to food production.
“We staunchly oppose any measure that would reduce food production in New Zealand, resulting in that production shifting to a less efficient international competitor and overall global emissions increasing,” Hunt said.
Other forms of possible mitigation directed towards agriculture includes the adoption of selective breeding of dairy cattle, beef cattle and sheep that exhibit low residual methane production.
While farmers were encouraged by developments towards low methane sheep and cattle breeds, it was too early to know how the new breeds would interact with farming systems and too soon to set out timelines on the roll-out of such breeds, Hunt said.
“We were excited when the PGGRC [Pastoral Greenhouse Gas Research Consortium] announced that they have made it possible to identify a low methane sheep breed. At this stage there is no such breed for low methane cattle available, but exciting research is under way.”
“New Zealand farms are complex diverse biological systems and it is impractical to set blanket targets for on farm practices, no matter how exciting the technology is,” she said.
The report does not outline how the 10 per cent live stock reduction would be managed or rolled out, not is the actual figure of what stock numbers would be by 2050.
Great South strategic projects manager Steve Canny said it was impractical to place a number on the livestock reductions required given that the model used in the Net Zero Southland report was based on land use that would change during the next 30 years.