No increase in stock numbers in the sheep and beef sector is anticipated as the industry moves towards carbon neutrality, says Beef + Lamb NZ head of nutrition Fiona Windle.
“The report highlights that agriculture and livestock farming has a role to play in addressing climate change,” says Jeremy Baker, BLNZ’s chief insight officer.
“It points out that livestock products from sustainable, low greenhouse gas emission farming systems are part of the solution.”
The report recommends how to mitigate and adapt to climate change, much of it already happening on NZ farms -- planting trees, maintaining good soil carbon, and low input, well managed grazing, Baker says.
“While our farmers have made good progress, the job is not done and we are committed to improving our environmental footprint.”
He says that, contrary to some claims, the report is clear that sustainably produced livestock products will keep their role in feeding the world.
“NZ’s sustainable sheep and beef farm systems are well matched with what the report’s authors are talking about. In particular, the report focuses on ensuring that land is matched with the most suitable food production use for it.
“While pastoral livestock farmers must keep reducing their greenhouse gas emissions, the IPCC report reinforces that NZ is already a leader in this.”
The report highlights the importance of soil carbon and the role it can play in mitigating climate change. NZ’s young soils have higher carbon content than anywhere else.
The IPCC’s research will also interest NZ policy makers as they consider the role forestry should play in combatting climate change, Baker says.
“The IPCC encourages the integration of trees into farming systems. But while large scale afforestation can provide opportunities for carbon sequestration, other issues must be taken into account.”
NZ meat's shrinking impact
• Since 1990 the NZ sheep and beef sector has reduced its absolute greenhouse gas emissions by 30%, yet has maintained similar levels of production and doubled the value of its exports.
• Research by Caroline Saunders in 2009 showed that NZ lamb exported to the UK had a lower carbon footprint than UK lamb, despite it being shipped to Europe.
• Research by Professor David Norton, University of Canterbury, has shown that NZ’s sheep and beef farms include 2.8 million hectares of native vegetation. This includes 1.4m ha of native forest, much of it having regenerated since the 1980s when marginal land was retired as Government subsidies ended.
• Research is now measuring the amount of sequestration by these native trees.
• Raising NZ beef requires water at rates of only 45L/kg, and sheepmeat only 20L/kg. Processing adds only 20-70L/kg. This contrasts with water required overseas by feedlots -- 680L/kg extracted water, including production and processing.