Friday, July 1, 2022

Sector pumped by gas funds

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Farming leaders have greeted the Government’s allocation of almost three quarters of a billion dollars to the primary sector in its emissions reduction plan with surprise and relief.

Of the $710m allocated over four years about half has gone to the pastoral sector as a $339 million allocation to develop a new centre for climate action on agricultural emissions. 

The centre will be focused on advancing and accelerating new and existing research work through to on farm release, working with commercial partners.

A further $329 million is going to the forestry sector to research forestry’s contribution to boosting carbon sequestration and to scale up seed production and lift private investment to transform the wood processing sector.

DairyNZ chief executive Dr Tim Mackle says while pleasantly surprised at the investment amount in the new centre, it was a figure reflecting the size of the challenge still facing New Zealand dairying to reduce emissions.

“We are world-leading with respect to our carbon footprint, but we desperately need new technology that is NZ specific, not to say we will not adopt overseas technology when it is available.”

Right now there are at least four methane inhibitors due for trialling in NZ pastoral dairy systems before they can go commercial. 

These include both overseas and locally-developed products.

Mackle says farmers who may have been uncertain about He Waka Eke Noa’s demands on their businesses could now take some comfort from the scale of Government investment to help back commercialised technology they could run with.

“The Government has come to the party on research and development, the devil will be in the detail of course.”

The move to establish a new centre raises the question about the future of the 20-year old Pastoral Greenhouse Gas Research Centre (PGgRC). 

Industry sources suggest the Government is likely to look to the existing structure of the centre as a base for the new centre’s broader, commercially focused aim. 

Mackle says any new complex put in place had to prove itself as a genuine addition over and above work already being done.

“But on the face of it this is a shot in the arm for methane reduction and commercialisation work, at about $80 million a year.”

Mark Aspin
Pastoral Greenhouse Gas Research Centre

PGgRC manager Mark Aspin says the Government had been tight-lipped about the plans until the announcement.

“But on the face of it this is a shot in the arm for methane reduction and commercialisation work, at about $80 million a year.”

He says it recognised there was considerable work still to do to take  research and making it work in the field. 

The centre has the IP on its vaccination and inhibitor technology developed over almost two decades.

“If this results in better consolidation and co-ordination that will have to be a good thing. We do need more infrastructure around the country to measure and trial some of this technology further. It could be we end up as a different entity, but this would help us get there faster, that is good.”

The announcement f has not been without its critics. 

Greenpeace slammed the Government’s plan as one that ignored emissions from the dairy sector, funding it without any contribution to the Emissions Trading Scheme. 

However, the sector’s alternative response to the ETS through He Waka Eke Noa (HWEN) is due for announcement in coming weeks. 

This brings an expectation farmers will have to reduce methane emissions by 10% by 2030 and 24-47% by 2050.  

Failure to arrive at an acceptable programme under He Waka Eke Noa will see agriculture pushed into the ETS.

Professor of sustainable energy at Massey University Ralph Sims welcomed the centre and its R&D investment. 

But he pointed to the NZGgRC’s efforts to try to achieve the same goals for almost a decade, with no tangible success in actually reducing farm emissions.

Mackle acknowledged efforts to date had not delivered a commercial technology, particularly in the much hoped for methane vaccine, but it was not a reason to simply stop looking for one.

“When it comes to methane, we are more challenged than many medical vaccinations – you are dealing with the rumen and the bloodstream and saliva. It’s a bit of a moon shot, but the size of the prize is so great for extensive livestock production.”
Beef + Lamb NZ chief executive Sam McIvor says the Ggovernment has recognised the significant challenge facing the sector in reducing biological methane losses and the funding reflects that and the urgency of the problem.

“We also have a group of commercial companies from the agri sector saying they want to get involved to get technology sped up.” 

He says the joint ventures that may spin out of the new centre could be similar to the Primary Growth Partnership programme some years ago.

He also welcomed the inclusion of $34M to help farmers, growers and iwi implement low emissions technology into their farming systems.

Moves to streamline the regulatory processes to get the likes of methane inhibitors over the line more quickly were also timely.

But McIvor says B+LNZ continues to push back at Government on its forestry policy in the emissions plan. 

He says the ETS’s 100% offset of forest to carbon emissions distorted the market and contrasted to countries like Canada and the European Union where forest planting can only deliver  7-10% of carbon offsets.

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