Beef from Hamish Galletly’s North Canterbury farm is being sold as net carbon zero by Silver Fern Farms in US supermarkets.
New Zealand-grown beef, with a net carbon zero footprint, goes on sale in US stores this month, the culmination of a two-year pilot to prove contributing farms sequester more carbon than they emit.
From Monday, consumers of selected New York and Los Angeles supermarkets will be able to buy Silver Fern Farms (SFF) branded net carbon zero Angus ribeye, New York strip steaks, ground beef and other cuts, for which farmers will receive a premium.
SFF intends adding zero carbon lamb and venison later in this year from up to 400 supplier farms.
The size of premium payments is still to be calculated, but SFF chief executive Simon Limmer described them as “meaningful”.
The two-year pilot involved independently and scientifically assessing the carbon emitted and carbon sequestered by indigenous vegetation on 17 pilot farms.
This has been certified and audited by Toitū Envirocare, a NZ carbon emissions management company, and the US Food and Drug Administration.
Limmer said the venture recognises most NZ sheep and beef farmers have areas of indigenous vegetation sequestering carbon, which enables producers to respond to consumer demand for carbon neutral food.
Those consumers also want assurances other environmental and social concerns are addressed such as biodiversity, which is linked to this project.
He said the pilot showed 96% of greenhouse gas emissions from beef production occur on-farm and more than 80% for sheepmeat and venison.
With growing political pressure for reduced agricultural greenhouse gas emissions, he said market forces can drive that change and net carbon zero attributes can differentiate NZ grass-fed meat and enhance our story to consumers.
He likens farmers shifting to zero carbon farming to adapting to the production of antibiotic-free and grass-fed meat.
“I would expect it will potentially represent a big proportion of our product by the very nature of the way we farm,” Limmer said.
Hamish Galletly said 600ha of his 2400ha North Canterbury farm is covered in indigenous vegetation, which he knew sequestered carbon, but was not being recognised.
The pilot study revealed his carbon emissions and sequestration were about even, and now he has a better understanding, he intends increasing tree planting on his Waiau property.
Galletly will each year have about 130 steers and 50-60 heifers eligible for the programme.
“We will protect and focus on our grazing areas and pasture and make better use of areas with trees on areas that we can’t graze,” Galletly said.
Toitū Envirocare sales manager Sean O’Flaherty said the life cycle emissions analysis measured from the birth of a cattle beast, processing, energy, transportation, waste, storage and end of life waste.
“From the birth of the product through to final disposition,” O’Flaherty said.
Experts measured the area of vegetation on farms that sequester carbon, then calculated emissions throughout the product’s life cycle using internationally accepted systems, data and vegetation criteria.
O’Flaherty said the first step for farmers is to determine their balance between carbon emitted and sequestered, then work out land and stock management techniques accordingly.
Climate Change Minister James Shaw said this product launch provides a glimpse of what NZ pastoral farming could look like in the future.
Such ventures are likely to run in parallel with whatever on-farm emission management scheme He Waka Eke Noa (HWEN) decides on.
“However, voluntary certification schemes like Toitū will likely operate separately from policy decisions made through the He Waka Eke Noa process,” Shaw said.
“That said, should that process result in a farm-level emissions pricing system, there will likely be some alignment between the two schemes.”
Shaw said some vegetation included in the scheme is not recognised in the accounting methods to determine if NZ meets its targets under the Paris Accord.
He said HWEN proposals are more aligned to recognising sequestration from native vegetation, and one option being considered is that exotics that are eligible for entry into the ETS are then ineligible for the HWEN scheme.