OPINION: There has been a lot of talk about agricultural emissions lately, but very little honest conversation.
Phil Journeaux of AgFirst says, on the whole, farmers are willing to change. However, the advice they are getting is not helping them do this. He claims a lot of this advice is simplistic and shows a lack of understanding of how it can be applied on the farm.
Journeaux believes real effort needs to be made in presenting the known science on GHG emissions in terms of how it fits into a farm system. He says there is a lack of truly independent advice to farmers – something that used to happen in the old days of MAF.
He pointed to Ireland where there is Teagasc – a state owned advisory and research organisation, which still offers genuine independent advice to farmers.
“Farmers in NZ are getting bombarded from a whole range of information from different sources,” Journeaux told Rural News.
“I am involved in running some seminars for rural professionals at the moment on GHGs and I have to say at this stage some rural professionals understand it well, but most don’t. I think there is big learning curve for them so they – in turn – can then start and work with their clients and help them understand it.”
Journeaux has, for the last three years, been involved with developing and modelling a range of changing farms systems and how they might cope with the GHG targets and – in particular – what effect this may have on profitability.
“In a general sense, we have found that we can reduce GHG emissions by between 2 and 10% -- depending on how we change the system, which often involves reducing stocking rates,” he explains. “In some instances, we have found it is actually possible to improve the farm profitability, but in most cases the modelling suggests reduced profitability.”
Journeaux says to make any big reduction of GHG emissions on farm, improving animal performance and reducing stock numbers seems to be the answer.
The work he’s been doing is on both sheep and beef, and dairy farms. Journeaux adds that, in the absence of new technology, land use change – planting trees would be an option.
“There are big implications around that in terms of changing land use and – as people are well aware – there is a movement currently to buy sheep and beef farms and plant them in trees. But this comes with economic and social change.”
Journeaux says looking at the expansion of the dairy industry in the 1990s and 2000s it seems, in hindsight, that some farms ended up in places that were not particularly conducive to dairy farming.