New Zealand farmers have lowest carbon footprint

04-02-2021 | |
Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock

New research shows New Zealand dairy farmers have the world’s lowest carbon footprint. The country’s dairy sector has half the emissions of other international producers.

Analysis from AgResearch confirms New Zealand retains its favourable position in low emission dairy milk production, with an on-farm carbon footprint 46% less than the average of 18 countries studied.

The study was commissioned by Dairy NZ but was independently produced by AgResearch and peer reviewed by an international specialist in Ireland. Researchers analysed 55% of global milk production.

Pasture based farming is a key component to New Zealand's low carbon footprint. Photo: Angela Mulligan

Pasture based farming is a key component to New Zealand’s low carbon footprint. Photo: Angela Mulligan

The carbon footprint is measured in total greenhouse (GHG) emissions per kg of product. The research compares carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) emissions per kilogramme of milk (fat and protein corrected milk – the nutritional content recognised in the study as CO2e per kg FPCM). This is an internationally recognised method. The countries selected had published research that enabled a like-for-like comparison.

New Zealand’s dairy sector is committed to remaining the most efficient producer of low emissions milk in the world.”

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New Zealand produced 0.74 kg CO2e per kg FPCM (fat and protein corrected milk). This proved to be 46% less than the average of the countries studied. That average is 1.37 kg CO2e per kg FPCM.

New Zealand was followed by Uruguay at 0.85 kg CO2e per kg FPCM. The 3rd country on the list is Portugal at 0.86 kg. After that follow Denmark at 0.9 and Sweden at 1.

Peru is the highest emissions producer among the countries studied, at 3.29 kg CO2e per kg FPCM. The country is followed by Costa Rica at 2.96 and Kenya at 2.54.

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Dairy NZ chief executive Dr Tim Mackle says the research plays a key part in understanding how New Zealand dairy farms stack up and informs how farmers can be even more efficient. “New Zealand’s dairy sector is committed to remaining the most efficient producer of low emissions milk in the world,” he emphasises. “Our focus is sustaining our success as consumers and communities increasingly seek sustainably produced food,” said Dr Mackle.

According to Dr Mackle New Zealand’s grass-based, outdoor grazing system is unique globally and is critical to its results in low emissions. And there is a huge amount of work underway to support farmers to reduce emissions even further. “Because we are already so efficient, there is no silver bullet to even greater efficiency. Significant investment in research and development is needed to find solutions. We need Government support as we adopt new knowledge, practices and technology.”

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Grass based farms

AgResearch scientists Andre Mazzetto and Stewart Ledgard led the research, following methodology in line with International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) standards. Dr Mazzetto points out it is always challenging to compare carbon footprinting studies, due to different methods in each scientific paper. “But we believe we have reached the best possible comparison from the data available.”

Dr Mazzetto explains there is still potential to improve and achieve lower emissions in New Zealand as other countries also advance their dairy sectors. Waikato dairy farmer and Climate Change Ambassador George Moss says pasture based farming and genetic improvement are important components. “Grass based farms and sophisticated animal breeding are key components to our low carbon footprint but there is more we need to do as we play our part in addressing climate change.”

Moss says New Zealand must continue to adapt and adopt new technology and knowledge. “Our global competitors are never far behind, plus we know it is the right thing to do for our environment, our consumers and humanity as a whole.”

René Groeneveld Australia correspondent