Pastoral agriculture farming with ruminants, ie. cattle, sheep, deer, goats, finds itself in the turmoil of society's environmental expectations. Farmers are being directed to reduce carbon emissions via methane from eructation (belching) and excretion of nitrogen in urine. In New Zealand agriculture makes up 47 per cent of the country's gross emissions.
In seeking change, government authorities support voluntary industry "Best Practice" by farmers, but this will be soon replaced by financial incentives to reduce their hoof print, namely, financial penalties and/or prosecution for non-compliance. The rate of change imposed by regulators may be faster than suitable biotechnological solutions being available to deliver.
What is disturbing for pastoral agriculture is the only short term solution suggested by politicians and the non-scientific community is to reduce the national herd/flock to reach targets whilst a suitable solution is 'invented' by the resourceful agricultural community.
There is positive news with research developments reported by the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre (NZAGRC). The multi-faceted approach involves "Direct mitigations are those solutions that reduce absolute emissions per unit of substrate (eg feed, nitrogen). Indirect mitigations are those that arise as a result of general improvements in the efficiency of production (eg by improved animal genetics and feeding practices which will reduce emissions per unit of product but may increase absolute emissions per animal)." — NZAGRC Report 2018
The later aspect of "indirect" mitigations via improvements in efficiency of production is the key area we should not lose focus on. NZ has a unique story with our pastoral production; it is up to our marketers to sell our products at a premium if we are going to "destock". We should pursue efficiency of production — healthy rumens on pasture producing substrates for maximal production. Pasture intakes with an optimal energy/protein ratio that minimises excessive amounts of urinary urea excreted on pasture. Our respective plant/animal breeders play an important role in the selection of our future genetic species — this has to be our long term sustainable solution. But our farmers have to farm better with the greater utilisation of pasture. This is in congruence with our NZ pasture based story.
The world has an insatiable demand for milk and meat — it is predicted to double for both industries by 2050. We are at the crossroads with our farming systems — many farmers now have adopted northern hemisphere intensive feeding systems, fertiliser, housing and equipment. These systems have helped NZ farmers to capitalise on the commodity cycle upswing in recent times. It is part of the reason undue negative attention has been placed on the sector. It may yet prove that these systems may be more acceptable to our customers overseas and meeting our targets for Greenhouse Gas Emissions than our own unique NZ solutions.
There seems a paradox coming to how the agricultural sector will respond and it may be not what the NZ public perceives what goes on in NZ farms.