Dairy industry emissions depend on who does the measuring but Greenpeace presses for a culling of the herd regardless

Greenhouse  gas  emissions  from dairy farming  have  reached  an all-time  high – but emissions from the dairy cows themselves have dropped year-on-year.

Confused?

Well  you  might be.  And  to  many  it  might not matter  much, but  for  NZ’s  most important  export  industry, it looms  as  a  vital issue.

The  calculation depends – apparently – on who collects the  statistics. The first  is from Statistics NZ, the  second  from the Ministry  for the Environment.

Inevitably, the industry says the  second is the better measure because statistics which show dairy farming emissions have increased capture too many irrelevant categories.

Radio  NZ  reports  Stats NZ figures show dairy cattle farming emissions rose 3.18% (up 546.2 kt CO2-e to 17,719.4 kt CO2-e) between 2018 and 2019, the most recently reported year. This is the highest figure on record, dating back to at least 2007.

The Stats NZ figures count all emissions produced on dairy farms, regardless of what the emissions stem from.

Two industry groups – Dairy NZ and Federated Farmers – said they monitor statistics from the Ministry for the Environment, which show a decrease in dairy cattle emissions of 0.4% (down 73.8 kt CO2-e to 18,460.1 kt CO2-e).

Ministry for the Environment (MfE) dairy cattle figures count emissions produced only by dairy cows, but not from other sources on the same farm.

The  divergence  wouldn’t matter   much – except that it  may assume  a  new  significance  if  the  government demands  dairy farmers  cut their herd  numbers  to  reduce  methane  emissions,  as  it  deals   with  the  Climate Change  Commission’s  recommendations on meeting carbon emission targets,

With climate  change  campaigners  like  Greenpeace  on  the  case, some  elements in  the  government   may  believe it is  vital  to demonstrate   to the  world  it is  doing its  utmost to limit global warming, with   stringent cuts  to methane emissions.

Already  many   city-dwellers  don’t    have  much  sympathy  for  dairy farmers  who –   they believe – are  responsible  for  polluting waterways  as  well as  being  the  biggest  industry  group emitters.

Industry spokesmen such as the Feds’ national president, Andrew  Hoggard, don’t   cut  much ice  when  they  contend year-on-year comparisons don’t necessarily tell the whole story.

Hoggard  says:

“To me, you don’t want to look at it in one year. That’s a very short time period, lots of things can change.  It may have been a good year, it may have been a bad year.

“I think what you want to look at is the total trend. And to me the total trend, particularly for methane, has been since 2006 emissions haven’t increased – in fact they’ve gone down.”

Nationwide methane emissions from all sources have fallen 4.7% since 2006.  But other emissions from dairy, namely nitrous oxides which are emitted from manure and synthetic fertiliser, have increased since then.

In any case, Hoggard said it was less important to focus on dairy, and more on total agriculture emissions.

“Land use between dairy and sheep and beef and horticulture and arable – farmers are in constant change. The key one to look at is total farm emissions reductions, not worry about whether it’s dairy or sheep and beef”,  Radio  NZ  quoted  Hoggard as  saying.

Total agriculture emissions were slightly higher in 2019 than they were in 2006, according to the  Ministry for the Environment.   Since the 2000s, sheep and beef farming has declined while dairy farming has increased.

Agriculture accounted for 48% of NZ’s total carbon emissions in 2019.

The thing that matters most is that NZ farmers are among the most efficient in the world at producing milk and meat, Hoggard said.

“To me, that’s the important thing, because it’s not NZ warming, it’s global warming. It makes zero sense for us to reduce production here in NZ and just have it replaced offshore where they do it at a higher [carbon emissions] footprint.”

Dairy NZ, another industry group, does not use the Stats NZ figures, either, because it includes all emissions on dairy farms, including those from beef cattle and sheep which also live on what are predominantly dairy farms. (By way of example: if a farm has 905 dairy cows and 10% beef cows, Stats NZ would count all emissions from that farm as dairy farming emissions, while MfE would count only the dairy cows’ emissions.)

To  Greenpeace   it’s  a  black  and  white  issue:  the number of cows needs to come down, and  the  government must regulate.

Almost  certainly,  it  will  fire  up   those  elements  in  rural regions   who  recently  mounted    their  “howl  of  protest”.

For  the  government,  its  support  down 10 per cent according to recent polls, the  issue   is  shaping  as  one of  the  most  far-reaching    in this  term.  It  might  even  trigger  a  wave  of  trepidation  among  those  Labour  MPs   who captured  all  but  one  of  the  rural  electorates  last  year.

Meanwhile  back   on  the  farm,  there  might   be  a  different  kind  of  nervousness  as   the   season    gets  into  its  stride.  Dairy prices fell in  an eighth consecutive Fonterra global auction.

The global dairy trade price index declined 1% from the previous auction a fortnight ago, (though  it is still sitting 24% higher than at the same time last year).

The average price for whole milk powder, which has the most impact on what farmers are paid, fell 3.8% to an average US$3598 (NZ$5127) a tonne.

Fonterra expects to reduce the amount of whole milk powder it offers on the auction platform by 20,000 tonnes from this month to July next year, saying it has “extremely strong” contract demand for the product over the next six months and expectations for flat milk supply this season will limit its ability to increase production. It reduced the amount on offer at this auction by 3100 tonnes and offered less at the previous auction.

Prices increased for all other commodities on the auction platform except lactose.

Fonterra has forecast a record opening milk price for farmers this season, underpinned by an improving global economy, and strong demand for dairy relative to supply.

2 thoughts on “Dairy industry emissions depend on who does the measuring but Greenpeace presses for a culling of the herd regardless

  1. When is someone going to produce the evidence (as opposed to computer guesswork) that “emissions” cause unnatural minor variations in temperatures, Warming? It’s the sun, stupid!

    Liked by 3 people

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