The independent research commissioned by Beef + Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ) has found New Zealand sheep and beef farms are close to being carbon neutral.
Auckland University of Technology’s ecology department senior lecturer Dr Bradley Case says the research calls for the formal recognition of on-farm sequestration.
“This indicates a strong position for farmers to get credit for the sequestration happening on their farms,” he said.
“This is an integral part of He Waka Eke Noa, the regulatory framework that industry and government are currently developing to manage agricultural emissions and recognise on-farm sequestration.
“This research not only builds understanding of the overall greenhouse gas (GHG) contribution of the sheep and beef sector, but will help inform the development of policy and further reinforce the outstanding biodiversity on sheep and beef farms.”
The study, led by Case, estimates the woody vegetation on NZ sheep and beef farms is offsetting between 63% and 118% of their on-farm agricultural emissions.
Using the midpoint in the report’s range, on average, the woody vegetation on sheep and beef farms is absorbing about 90% of these emissions.
B+LNZ chief executive Sam McIvor says absolute GHG emissions from NZ sheep and beef production have reduced by 30% since 1990.
“This research shows that of the remaining emissions the vast majority are being offset by the trees on our farms and NZ sheep and beef farmers are well on the way to being carbon neutral by 2050,” he said.
McIvor says the study reinforces the importance of farmers getting formal recognition for the sequestration happening on their farms.
“Currently, most vegetation on sheep and beef farms does not qualify for inclusion in the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) because it does not meet the definition of a forest,” he said.
“If farmers are to face a price for agricultural emissions, it’s only fair they get credit for their sequestration.”
The focus to date on livestock’s climate change contribution has been on emissions, rather than on sequestration.
“But with any product it makes sense to consider the whole business, in this case, taking a whole farm approach,” he said.
“The study should also reassure consumers that NZ beef and lamb is among the most sustainable in the world and our farmers are making a significant contribution to addressing on-farm agricultural emissions.
“These findings should be of immense pride for NZ’s sheep and beef farmers, the 92,000 people employed in what is NZ’s largest manufacturing sector, and all New Zealanders.”
According to the report, the woody vegetation is made up of 1.52 million hectares of native forest and 0.48m ha of exotic vegetation.
In addition to sequestering carbon, this vegetation delivers wider benefits for NZ’s biodiversity and freshwater ecosystems.
“The report identifies where sheep and beef farmers can focus to continue to build the native vegetation and biodiversity on their farms,” Case said.
The regional maps in the research indicate where management is most needed to ensure mature-old growth forests are managed to prevent them becoming sources of atmospheric carbon.
Importantly, Case says, the net carbon emissions estimation assumed a net-neutral rate for soil sequestration, so the amount of sequestration happening could be even greater.
“While there is fairly good information about soil carbon stocks, there is not good data about yearly changes in soil sequestration and the science on this is still in development,” he said.
B+LNZ’s primary objective for the report was to estimate the net carbon position of NZ sheep and beef production, that being GHG emissions minus GHG sequestration.
In 2018, industry set a target of sheep and beef farmers being carbon neutral by 2050.
A key objective of the analysis was to understand where the sector is now to assist work going forward on how to achieve the target.
McIvor says the purpose of this research was also to build a better understanding of the distribution of woody vegetation on sheep and beef farms and also to inform discussions with the Government about farmers getting recognition for the sequestration occurring on their farms.
“This is a very significant report for the sheep and beef sector but further than that it is potentially a game changer for NZ’s quest to be carbon neutral by 2050,” he said.
The report also underlines previous independent work by the University of Canterbury that sheep and beef farmers are making an unparalleled contribution to NZ’s indigenous biodiversity.
The summary report and the full report can be read here: