Updated: Mar 24, 2021
New Zealand’s sheep and cattle farms are close to being carbon neutral, strengthening calls for formal recognition of on-farm sequestration, according to research published on 9 October. The study led by Dr Bradley Case, senior lecturer in Geographic Information System and Remote Sensing at the Auckland University of Technology, estimates the woody vegetation on New Zealand sheep and cattle farms is offsetting between 63% and 118% of their on-farm agricultural emissions. If the mid-point in the report’s range is used, on average the woody vegetation on sheep and beef farms is absorbing about 90% of these emissions. Sam McIvor, CEO of Beef + Lamb New Zealand, says absolute greenhouse gas emissions from New Zealand lamb and beef production have reduced by 30% since 1990 and this study reinforces the importance of farmers getting formal recognition for the sequestration happening on their farms.
“This research shows that of the remaining emissions, the vast majority are being offset by the trees on our farms and New Zealand sheep and cattle farmers are well on the way to being carbon neutral by 2050. These findings should be of immense pride for New Zealand’s sheep and cattle farmers, the 92 000 people employed in what is New Zealand’s largest manufacturing sector and all New Zealanders,” he says.
According to McIvor, currently most vegetation on sheep and beef farms does not qualify for inclusion in the Emissions Trading Scheme because it does not meet the definition of a forest. He says 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 of farm approach. The study should also reassure consumers that New Zealand 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,” says the CEO.
Dr Case says there is a strong case for farmers to get credit for the sequestration happening on their farms and it is an integral part of He Waka Eke Noa, the regulatory framework that industry and government are currently developing to manage agricultural emissions and recognize on-farm sequestration. He says this research builds understanding of the overall greenhouse gas contribution of the sheep and cattle sector and will help inform development of policy, as well as further reinforce outstanding biodiversity on lamb and beef farms.
According to the AUT report, the woody vegetation is made up of 1.52 million hectares of native forest and 0.48 million hectares of exotic vegetation and in addition to sequestering carbon, it delivers wider benefits for New Zealand’s biodiversity and freshwater ecosystems. Dr Case says the report identifies where sheep and cattle farmers can focus to continue to build the native vegetation and biodiversity on their farms.
“The regional maps in the research indicate where management is most needed to ensure mature or old growth forests are managed to prevent them becoming sources of atmospheric carbon. Importantly, 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 says.