It's been said that the climate-change ship has left the dock, but lots of people are still debating whether boats can float.
Fortunately for DairyNZ, organiser of a Greenhouse Gas 101 Roadshow "It's Not All Hot Air" in Palmerston North on September 12, climate change deniers appeared to be no-shows among the more than 100 farmers, rural professionals and researchers in the room.
Rather it was a group of people keen to increase their knowledge about global warming, and what research is being done that could help the agri-sector reduce harmful emissions now, and into the future.
"Canterbury and Otago are currently in drought about 10per cent of the year. By 2040, it's estimated they'll be in drought about 20per cent of the year."
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The workshop was the sixth of nine that Dairy NZ was hosting up and down the country as a strand of the Dairy Action for Climate Change 2017-18 strategy it is running in partnership with Fonterra, and with support from the Ministry for Primary Industries and the Ministry for the Environment.
Kara Lok leads Dairy NZ's greenhouse gas programme and co-chairs BERG (Biological Emissions Reference Group), a government and cross-industry initiative that includes most agriculture industry organisations, including Federated Farmers.
She told the workshop BERG is tasked with developing a "robust and agreed evidence-base on what we can do now and in the future on agriculture emissions, and understand what the costs, opportunities and barriers are".
Third party experts have been commissioned to investigate and answer a number of questions BERG's members have agreed are the priority. Kara said the answers would inform two synthesis reports, one due at the end of this year, the other early in 2018.
Among the topics being looked at:
* The carbon sequestration potential of riparian strips and shelter belts
* Soil carbon, "often brought forward as a mitigation option, but the science isn't there yet to prove it"
* Co-benefits between the freshwater framework and mitigations, and the potential spin-offs for greenhouse gases, and vice-versa.
The New Zealand dairy sector is one of the lowest emission producers of dairy nutrition in the world. But given the nation's highly unusual greenhouse gas (GHG) profile (49 per cent of our harmful emissions are from agriculture, and half of those are from dairy) and our international commitments under the Paris Agreement, "there's a political consensus, regardless of who wins the election, that action must be taken", Kara said.
As a result of global warming, climate patterns are changing. "It will affect our supply chain. We're going to see more frequent extreme weather events - floods, hurricanes, increased market volatility, increased risk of pests and diseases, so biosecurity is going to become increasingly important.
"It will change where we can farm, and farming systems. For example, Canterbury and Otago are currently in drought about 10 per cent of the year. By 2040, it's estimated they'll be in drought about 20 per cent of the year."
The Dairy Action for Climate Change approach is about providing a link between research and farms to test possible mitigations and explore the role of incentives in improving practices and ensuring advice to dairy farmers is consistent and accurate.
As well as the GHG 101 Roadshow and hosting six discussion groups on climate change with DairyNZ's Dairy Environment Leaders, the Dairy NZ/Fonterra partnership is out to identify 12 climate change dairy farmer "Champions" from across NZ to raise awareness and mobilise change.
Two GHG courses will be run at Massey University in December and January, similar to the nutrient management certification programme. As well as covering the GHG challenges in more detail, it will also go into mitigation options and how to model Overseer for greenhouse gas emissions.
Kara was asked that given the questions asked about the reliability of Overseer measuring nitrogen loss, "how accurate is it measuring methane?".
"Firstly, it's not measuring, it's accounting. [Overseer] is a model [tool] and every model is an estimate. But we've now done some work on this and from a scientific perspective, we know the modelling is pretty accurate, technically," she said.
Dairy NZ has pledged that by February next year, with support from MfE and MPI, it will characterise and implement farm changes which have the potential to reduce biological emissions on dairy farms.
"We're going to have 10-15 case studies, across different farm systems, so we can understand what's possible. We're keen to set up communities of interest around those farms and to have rural professional like yourselves involved."
By November 2018, Fonterra has committed to running an on-farm GHG recording pilot involving up to 100 of the co-op's suppliers.
"Farmers want to know what their GHG footprint is, and how they compare with neighbours," Kara said. "All of their suppliers already get their N leaching number and nitrous oxide emissions [data]. The trial is looking at giving about 100 of them their methane number as well, using their Overseer file."
Someone else asked whether a producer's greenhouse gas footprint would be a factor in market prices.
"A very interesting question," Kara replied. "The honest answer is, we don't know.
Consumers could potentially be willing to pay more, or it could just be 'business as usual' and be a market access requisite. It will be interesting to see what happens with that."