Dairy giant Fonterra has committed to measuring the climate pollution on 100 of its suppliers' farms as part of a plan to cut the dairy industry's emissions.
Lobby group DairyNZ released the climate change plan at Fieldays in Hamilton today, saying that it wanted to encourage farming with a smaller environmental footprint.
It does not include firm targets for reducing greenhouse gases, but outlines proposals to test lower-emission farming systems, educate farmers about climate change, and roll out pollution recording systems on some farms.
DairyNZ chief executive Tim Mackle said reducing methane and nitrogen emissions was "one of the most challenging issues facing the dairy and food producing sectors" in New Zealand and abroad.
"Tackling the reduction of on-farm emissions is not going to be easy.
"It requires our Government and the agricultural sector to work together, and ... the plan is an important part of a broader work programme underway."
Under the new plan, the primary industries and environment ministries will partner with farms to test new farming systems and measure their impact on production. If they are successful, they will be rolled out to dairy farms nationwide.
Beginning in November 2018, Fonterra will include greenhouse gas emissions on the environmental performance reports it provides to farmers. It will initially be trialled on up to 100 farms.
Half of New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture, and around a quarter come from the dairy industry.
Despite its large share of total emissions, the industry is exempt from the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) - the Government's main tool for combating climate change.
Speaking at Fieldays today, Deputy Prime Minister and Climate Change Minister Paula Bennett reaffirmed that the Government would not bring agriculture into the scheme "until we have an economically viable way of reducing on-farm emissions".
Labour and Greens have committed to phasing agriculture into the scheme if they get into Government.
The Green Party said DairyNZ's climate change plan was a small step in the right direction from the industry, in particular the plan to record emissions.
Co-leader James Shaw said Bennett should have gone further and set a date for including farmers in the ETS, which would give them some certainty about when they would start paying for their pollution.
"Farmers want leadership from Government and a real commitment to pollution cuts," Shaw said.
Several recent reports - including one by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Jan Wright - have said that stock numbers will need to be reduced if New Zealand is to seriously address emissions from agriculture.
The National-led Government is unenthusiastic about that proposal, and is instead focusing on funding research on ways to reduce livestock emissions.
Among the innovations being considered are cows that produce less methane, and the development of a methane-inhibiting vaccine.