Managing Emissions

Managing Emissions

Reducing your biological greenhouse gas emissions on farm is achievable, and many of the solutions have co-benefits in terms of increased efficiency, improved water quality, animal health outcomes, and financial viability. Outlined below are some practical options to consider for your farming system. There are also several projects which DairyNZ and others are working on that will help farmers continue reducing emissions and improving farm performance in the future.

What you can do now

There are many opportunities to reduce biological greenhouse gas emissions, and capture carbon dioxide. The mitigation potential will depend on the type of farming operation and current practices.

Know your numbers and have a plan

The first step is finding out what your farm’s biological emissions (being methane and nitrous oxide) are and where they come from. By January 2025, all farmers will also have to have a plan in place for managing those emissions. This is part of the climate change legislation and the He Waka Eke Noa partnership.

Most dairy farmers will receive their greenhouse gas information from their dairy company. For example, Fonterra farmers receive an Insights Report that includes an emissions profile to help identify emission sources. Other options for finding out your numbers include examining your Overseer or Farmax nutrient budget, which will also estimate your on-farm emissions.

The next step is to identify what options might be available to you to manage those emissions and document them in a plan. All farmers will have to have this plan in place by 1 January 2025.

Developing a greenhouse gas plan (or module in an existing farm plan) will help build:

  1. A good understanding of your farm’s biological emission sources; and
  2. The knowledge to make informed decisions on actions to reduce emissions on your farm that are appropriate to your system and that consider the impacts on other aspects of your farm business.

Dairy companies are working with their farmers to ensure they receive a greenhouse gas plan (or module to be included in an existing farm environment plan or freshwater farm plan).

Managing on-farm emissions

There are three main drivers of on-farm biological emissions:

  1. Dry matter eaten – a direct correlation with biological methane emissions and strong correlation with nitrous oxide
  2. Protein (nitrogen) content of the feed
  3. Amount of nitrogen fertiliser used.

Actions available now that you can consider for reducing your farm’s emissions

  1. Improving the efficiency of pasture and crop production
  2. Reducing the total amount of feed eaten on farm
  3. Matching feed demand with pasture growth and utilisation
  4. Improving the management of livestock effluent
  5. Capturing and storing carbon in vegetation and soil.

Improve the efficiency of pasture and crop production

There is a strong link between reducing nitrogen loss and biological greenhouse gas emissions. Lower N surplus will reduce feed imported/harvested, which reduces biological methane and nitrous oxide.

You need to have good pasture management systems to effectively manage your nitrogen use. For more information on pasture management visit Pasture - DairyNZ

Reduce total feed eaten

Research shows there is a direct link between feed intake and biological methane produced. For every additional kg of total feed eaten per hectare, total methane emissions increase proportionally. Consideration of stocking rates, individual animal performance and the need for supplementary feed, can help to optimise livestock farming systems.

Matching feed demand with pasture growth and utilisation

Balancing pasture growth and utilisation is key to optimising stocking rates that result in the same or higher profit with lower inputs. Improved grazing management and strategic management of stocking rate throughout the year can result in less pasture wastage and lower supplementary feed inputs, reducing emissions.

Pasture-based farming systems with good grazing management that maintain year-round quality pasture production reduce total dry matter demand.

Good grazing management includes practices such as:

  • Regular pasture assessments and feed budgeting Feed– DairyNZ.
  • Setting and managing pre-grazing covers and post-grazing residuals (intensive systems)
  • Choosing rotation lengths that optimise both quality and quantity of pasture
  • Managing pests and diseases
  • Optimising soil fertility
  • Actively managing any pasture surplus

For more information on low protein forages visit Low-emission feeds | Ag Matters

Improve the management of livestock effluent

Livestock effluent can be a significant source of on-farm greenhouse gas emissions where stand-off pads or animal housing is in use. In such farming systems, an increased focus on better utilisation of effluent has benefits for both on-farm emissions and reduced risk of contaminants entering waterways.

  • Avoid storing effluent in anaerobic conditions.
  • Covered manure/effluent storage.
  • Effluent treatment with polyferric sulphate.

Visit effluent storage, and speak with your effluent consultant or farm advisor for more detailed information.

Capture and store carbon in vegetation

Planting or restoring woody vegetation on farm can improve erosion control, waterway enhancement, biodiversity, shade and shelter, commercial gain, and aesthetic appeal. The capture and storing of carbon (sequestration) is typically a secondary benefit from undertaking these activities:

Capture and store carbon in soils

Research on ways to maintain and increase soil carbon under New Zealand conditions is currently underway. Currently no domestic emissions inventory or accounting method includes soil carbon. New Zealand currently has high soil carbon levels compared to other countries globally.

Except for changes in land use (e.g., cropping to pasture), no management practices have been widely proven to increase soil carbon under New Zealand conditions. Quantifying changes in soil carbon is possible but can be labour-intensive and expensive, requiring repeated measurements over long time intervals (e.g., 3–10 years).

There are however numerous other benefits to maintaining or increasing soil carbon such as soil fertility, biological diversity etc.How to increase and maintain soil carbon:

  • Minimise the time soils are left fallow (i.e., with no growing vegetation)
  • Increase the duration of pasture in crop rotations
  • Retain and incorporate crop residues where possible
  • Add external organic amendments, such as manure, compost or biochar
  • Protect and manage erosion prone land
  • Increase the different types of plant species in pasture swards
  • Optimise water table depth for peat soils

For more information on soil carbon, visit Maintain or increase soil carbon | Ag Matters

What might be available in the future?

As highlighted above there are a range of actions you can currently take to reduce your farm’s emissions.

Further options and solutions are being researched. Technological and farm system solutions to reducing on-farm emissions, such as methane inhibitors, will be essential in assisting farmers to meet their emissions reductions goals. Research is underway to develop technological solutions and efficiency gains to help maintain New Zealand's position as one of the most emissions-efficient milk producers in the world.

What is DairyNZ doing?

DairyNZ has a range of projects underway to assist farmers in reducing their emissions.

The Less-Methane team at DairyNZ are working on several viable solutions that reduce methane emissions on New Zealand farms. Less methane.

The Plantain programme is a DairyNZ-led collaborative research and development initiative. The aim is to substantially reduce nitrogen lost to freshwater and greenhouse gas produced from farms. Plantain Potency and Practice Programme.

Southern Dairy Hub- This project is looking at range of issues that affect southern dairy farmers but also examining the intricacies and differences of emissions profiles of farms and how to best optimise operations for reducing emissions. Southern Dairy Hub

What are others doing?

Alongside DairyNZ, a range of other research and industry organisations are exploring new technologies and practices for reducing biological emissions, e.g., inhibitors, vaccines, low-emissions livestock and feeds and more.

The New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre (NZAGRC) was set up in 2009 to coordinate this effort and is currently leading programmes of work looking at methane and nitrous oxide emissions, soil carbon and future farm systems, as well as having a dedicated Māori research programme.

In 2022, recognising the urgent need for new technologies, the Government confirmed an additional $338m to scale-up efforts to lower agricultural emissions. Some of that funding is being directed into AgriZero NZ – a 50/50 joint venture between the Government and six major agribusiness companies. The venture serves to accelerate the creation of tools and technologies to reduce on‑farm emissions.

For more information on the actions that might be available to farmers in the future, see this helpful page on the Ag Matters website.