Saturday, April 13, 2024

‘Methane-cutting tools on track for 2030’

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AgriZero funds companies developing tech to help NZ farms meet emissions goals.
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The head of the organisation tasked with finding tools for reducing on-farm emissions is confident they’ll be in the hands of farmers by 2030.

AgriZero is a joint venture between the government and industry and is backing a number of innovators developing mitigation tools that will work in New Zealand’s pasture-based farm systems.

With Fonterra announcing its plan to reduce emissions intensity by 30% by 2030, AgriZero chief executive Wayne McNee said the race is on.

“We’re looking for companies that are developing tools that New Zealand farmers can use,” McNee told the Farmers Weekly In Focus podcast (skip to the six-minute mark). 

“So pastoral farming tools, we’re investing in those companies both in New Zealand and offshore and then working with them to get those tools to farmers.”

AgriZero was launched in February and has $165 million to invest. Half has come from the government and half from partners Fonterra, Silver Fern Farms, Anzco, Synlait, Rabobank and Ravensdown.

McNee said they’ve put their money behind four projects so far.

“The first of those is a company called Ruminant Biotech, which makes methane-reducing boluses that you can put in the rumen of the animal. It’s a fairly early-stage company, but a promising technology that could potentially be used across sheep, beef and dairy, which is one of the benefits. 

“We invested in a company in the United States called Hoofprint Biome, which is making an enzyme-type product that you would feed to the animal – ideally once a day or less – which shows great promise in reducing methane emissions. 

“We’ve picked up the industry funding for a vaccine programme and methane inhibitor programme run out of AgResearch in Palmerston North. And lastly, we have invested in building some methane-measuring facilities which will be based at Massey University and Palmerston North, so you can measure emissions from cows when you do research and see whether these things you’re using actually work or not.”

AgriZero complements the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre that has been going in Palmerston North for more than 10 years. 

“We work alongside them, they do the early-stage research looking at how you could actually change the rumen of an animal to reduce emissions, and they’re also looking at soil carbon and things like that. 

“We’re more focused on things that are near to the needs of the farmers – so something that we might get to market in the next three to five years and really giving that a boost to helping you get approved so farmers can use it here in New Zealand.”

He’s optimistic those tools will be in farmers’ hands soon.

“It is a significant challenge because most of the technology that’s been developed was designed for high-input dairy or feedlot beef systems. So we need something different to that. 

“There is a lot of research going on around the world now into pasture-based solutions designed with places like India and Africa and South America in mind, where there are large numbers of ruminant animals. 

“So I am optimistic that there will be a range of tools by 2030 that farmers can use to reduce their emissions on farm, both methane and nitrous oxide.”

AgriZero chief executive Wayne McNee says the race is on to develop tools to reduce on-farm GHG.

McNee said that while the previous government’s regulatory programme, He Waka Eke Noa, was met with opposition from farmers, they should be more welcoming to market-driven change.

“One of the reasons we exist is that customers are demanding reduced emissions. If you look at the Fonterra documents, they outline what their customers are requiring. Nestlé and others have absolute target reductions of 30-50% by 2030. And they are wanting their suppliers, including New Zealand, to help them meet those. 

“New Zealand starts from a great place – we are very carbon efficient to start with, but those other countries are going to get tools that we might not be able to use and they will catch up on us and maybe even pass us. 

“So that’s really important to customers, it’s important to consumer. We have to be continuing to focus in this area. I think there is a real opportunity here and I’m optimistic that we will be able to maintain our position.”

AgriZero is also talking to major global players to see if there are opportunities to collaborate.

“I was in Ireland earlier this year and we are working closely with a university there, but also to a lot of startups in the United States.

“They see an opportunity here, this is a big market, a lot of money potentially to be made over time. There are lots of little companies looking at doing research in the universities, in Europe and the United States.”

Big funders like the Gates Foundation are also on the radar.

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