Wednesday, 17 April 2019 09:04

What to do on greenhouse gases?

Written by  Peter Burke
Dr Harry Clark. Dr Harry Clark.

Farmers are unsure about what they can and should do to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, says the director of the NZ Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Centre.

Dr Harry Clark told the Agricultural Climate Change conference last week in Palmerston North that the broader rural professional sector lacks clear information, expertise and knowledge of GHGs.

He attributes this partly to the greater emphasis on water issues in recent years, and now the focus must be on to GHGs.

“Just as when the focus came on water there had to be a lot of up-skilling by rural professionals and knowledge transfer on how to handle water,” he said. 

“We are now in the same position with GHGs. We need advice and knowledge, and I think we can catch up relatively quickly.” 

Clark says agricultural emissions are an extremely important issue for NZ. But we need to balance any reduction in our emissions with our economic performance and consider what the impact that would be on the farming community.

“How do we grapple with trying to get agriculture to reduce in the context of maintaining a vibrant rural and national economy? That isn’t an easy balance to achieve,” he said. “There are many competing interests. We need to... grasp the opportunities and minimise the threats.” 

The dairy sector could reduce stocking rates but still maintain profitability and reduce GHG emissions, Clark says. 

“That would be the kind of win-win scenario we are looking for.”

Many at the conference discussed farmers’ needs for financial incentives to enable them to make changes. One delegate claimed the best way to send messages to farmers is to write them on a cheque. But Clark says while financial incentives may be one way of changing farmer behaviour, another is the reality of the demands from discerning customers in some of NZ’s high value markets.

“In international markets you have to meet certain environmental standards just to be in the marketplace – not necessarily to get a reward. But meeting those standards is critical for access to that market,” he told the conference.

Clark says farmers must think carefully about the social licence to farm and must work within the social boundaries people find acceptable. These boundaries change and everyone works within a socially dynamic environment. 

“Farmers are under pressure from the broader NZ population to do their bit for climate change, so achieving this transcends just a simple profitability issue. It goes into what is acceptable in the general society,” he said. 

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