Leading by example
How do you balance the twin pressures of feeding a rapidly
expanding population while also meeting society’s high
expectations around the environment?
While that’s a global question, many of the solutions are likely to be found at a local level. Take New Zealand. Just under a half of our greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture, but internationally agriculture produces only 14% of all such emissions. As global food demand increases, agricultural emissions are expected to rise by about 30-60% above 2005 levels by 2050 if nothing else changes.
One way to help bring about more rapid change is to coordinate and accelerate the wealth of research already under way in this area. That’s what happened in March 2010 with the official opening of the MAF-funded New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre (NZAGRC). A collaboration between AgResearch, DairyNZ, Landcare Research, Lincoln University, Massey University, NIWA, the Pastoral Greenhouse Gas Research Consortium (PGgRc), Plant & Food Research and Scion, the NZAGRC announced in January the first 18 long term science programmes for which it will provide a total $15.5m of funding over four years.
The programmes – some of them new, some extending and aligning with existing research primarily funded by the PGgRc and MAF – include work to reduce methane and nitrous oxide emissions, increase soil carbon accumulation and to design farm systems that utilise new research and technologies on farm to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with no loss of profitability.
Dr Harry Clark, NZAGRC Director, is unequivocal about the value of the centre.
“Agricultural greenhouse gas emissions are a distinct challenge for New Zealand,” he says. “Appropriately, we have developed comprehensive research programmes and are at the forefront of global efforts to tackle agricultural emissions. The NZAGRC helps coordinate these efforts on behalf of New Zealand and plays a central role in developing the national science strategy on mitigating greenhouse gas emissions.”
The scope of NZAGRC is not limited to domestic borders though; it also contributes to international research efforts to reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions via its input to the Global Research Alliance. The Global Research Alliance is a New Zealand-inspired global initiative whose 32 members (and growing) are working collectively to seek new ways to grow more food without increasing greenhouse gas emissions.
New Zealand has a lot at stake here. As Minister of Agriculture David Carter stated in February, “consumers the world over expect food to be produced to the highest standards of quality and safety (and expect) producers to take into account the environmental impact of farming systems.”
There’s no doubt that New Zealanders want to do the right thing – we’ve often led the world in social change. But that’s not the whole story. By leading the way in reducing agricultural greenhouse gas emissions, we are also protecting our reputation in the global food market. Given the importance of food exports to our collective wealth, that’s a reputation worth taking care of.
The four target areas.
The NZAGRC long term research programme is directed to four key areas.
Eight Principal Investigators from across the member organisations coordinate the science teams undertaking each project, and the delivery of their research outputs. An annual review of the research ensures it remains relevant to both domestic and international stakeholders.
1. The Methane Programme: Up to 97% of agricultural methane emissions in New Zealand come from cattle, sheep and deer as they digest feed. The Methane
Programme includes projects to find inhibitors that suppress the organisms
responsible for producing methane; breeding animals that produce less methane; testing new, low-methaneproducing animal feeds; and investigating the economic viability of collecting methane produced from animal wastes.
2. The Nitrous Oxide (N2O) Programme: In global warming terms, nitrous oxide is
over 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide. In New Zealand, about 14% of
all greenhouse gas emissions are in the form of N2O from agriculture. The N2O
programme includes projects to reduce nitrous oxide emissions from urine
patches across a wide range of soil and climate conditions; and growing high-yield pasture with lower nitrogen content.
3. Soil Carbon: Thanks to significant investments into science over many years,
we now have a good understanding of the benefits of having high levels of soil
carbon. We have also made significant progress in quantifying how much carbon is stored in agricultural soils. Current NZAGRC-funded work is about understanding the management practices that can keep and increase the amount stored.
4. Integrated Farm Systems: This research programme is dedicated to “joining the dots” – linking science from a range of sources to ensure that practical, cost
effective, low greenhouse gas-emitting farm systems are developed and can be
applied by farmers.