Farmers will need to be agile managers in order to meet the challenges presented by climate change, according to a Westpac NZ and Lincoln University report.
The report said there are already a range of existing management options available to assist farmers in strengthening the physical resilience of their farming systems and to help them meet New Zealand’s 2030 agriculture climate targets, with only a few requiring an initial investment of capital.
Westpac NZ’s head of agribusiness Tim Henshaw said the report was designed to provide farmers and growers with impartial information about the way climate change may affect their location and type of production, and how they can respond.
“However, applying these options more widely will require uptake of best practice farm management,” Henshaw said.
“This may require a significant uplift in skills and training to ensure a greater number of farmers have sufficient expertise to both reduce emissions and adapt to climate change.”
The Westpac NZ Agribusiness Climate Change Report makes information relevant to farmers and growers by exploring credible case studies.
It looks at the effect of drought on a dairy farmer in Canterbury, and the impact of warming winters on kiwifruit growers in the Bay of Plenty.
The optimal response to climate change would be different for every producer.
Henshaw said there is no single “off-the-shelf” solution.
“I’d encourage primary producers to think about how the climate is changing in their part of the country, and what effect that will have on production.”
Henshaw said farmers would need to consider what expertise they have available to adapt their operations, and plan to fill that gap if it exists.
Opportunities may arise for producers who adapt quickly.
“In some cases, land may become suitable for different types of production that were not previously viable.
“Other commercial opportunities may arise if individual producers or the wider New Zealand industry take a leadership position on tackling transition risks like changing consumer preferences and trade challenges.”
The report also assesses the way de-stocking, combined with improved productivity, can help both reduce emissions and maintain profitability.
“Many initiatives should be regarded as ‘win-win’, as they will have side benefits such as improving soil health or biodiversity.”
The report’s lead author, Lincoln University Professor Anita Wreford, said adaptation would be crucial.
“There are very useful actions farmers should consider in the short and medium-terms.
“However, if temperatures rise significantly, there will come a time at which current adaptations are no longer effective.
“That’s one of the many reasons it’s critical every effort is made to avoid as much warming as possible.”
Wreford said there was scope for further research into the enduring effectiveness of adaptation practices under a changing climate.
“Because astute land management will be critical in responding to climate change, there is also a need to increase training of rural professionals to support farmers and growers.”
The report was produced as part of a wider body of work undertaken by Lincoln University for Westpac NZ looking at the impact of climate change on agriculture in New Zealand.
Earlier this year, Westpac launched a pilot of its new sustainable agribusiness loans with a small group of farming customers.
The bank plans to make the loan available to its agri customers in 2023.
Most of the adaptations identified in the report are based on changes to the management of the system, with only a few requiring an initial investment of capital.
However, the management changes may require significant increases in labour and skills, so a key feature of supporting farmers to adapt to climate change will be in extension work and knowledge exchange, it says.
The report said a range of opportunities also arise from the transition to low-carbon agriculture in New Zealand.
These included reduced on-farm production costs, increased productivity through climate-smart farming techniques such as precision agriculture, and increased farm profitability through diversification of farming systems.
Increased heat stress - and the likely increases in extremes such as drought - means some regions are likely to experience challenges to their systems over the next 30 years.
“Pastoral farming systems across New Zealand are likely to experience increased pasture growth, however, pests and disease may also worsen; farmers and growers may also be less able to rely on irrigation to cope with water variability and drought,” the report said.
Climate change may make some farms unprofitable in drought years. The report shows two consecutive years of drought on sheep and beef farms could result in profit decreases of 46-65 per cent.
A range of greenhouse gas mitigation options are already available to producers, including feed, pasture, stock and effluent management for pastoral producers, as well as crop and soil management and technology investment for all sectors.
These types of changes can all get close to, or achieve, New Zealand’s 2030 methane reduction target of 10 per cent below 2017 levels.
However, achieving reductions above that will require a combination of improved technologies and land use change, the report said.