Agricultural greenhouse gases & the New Zealand dairy sector

Quick facts

  • Forty-nine percent of New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture.
  • At the same time, more than 38% of New Zealand's merchandisable exports come from agriculture. 
  • Dairy is New Zealand's biggest export earner.
  • New Zealand is the number one contributor to the global dairy trade.

What practices have changed since 1990?

  • Consistent supply of high quality feed
  • Increased use of supplements (mazie sileage,  PKE, brassicas)
  • Improved pasture, irrigation and fertilizer management
  • Improved genetic merit of animals through breeding and herd testing

What effect have these changes had on productivity?

  • Increased milk yield per cow (kg MS/cow)
  • Increased milk yield per hectare (kg MS/ha)
  • Milk yield is closer to the animal's genetic potential

What's the effect on greenhouse gas emissions intensity?

These practice changes result in lower emissions intensity per unit of product and a greater proportion of feed goes to milk production rather than maintenance.

What's the latest from industry?

DairyNZ Read more

Fonterra Read more

Summary tables of practice change and effects

On farm change since 1990 Effect on farm productivity  Effect on emissions intensity (net) 

Consistent supply of high quality feed

Increased use of supplements (mazie sileage,  PKE, brassicas)

Improved pasture, irrigation and fertilizer management

Improved genetic merit of animals through breeding and herd testing

Increased milk yield per cow (kg MS/cow)

Increased milk yield per hectare (kg MS/ha)

* Milk yield is closer to the animal's genetic potential*

 Lower

* Greater proportion of feed goes to milk production rather than maintenance *

  • Collaborative work investigating GHG emissions from dairy farms

    During 2015/16, the dairy component of the programme has continued progress towards understanding potential for practical mitigation options to result in lower GHG footprints for dairy farming.

    Methane and nitrous oxide measurements on dairy farmlets, testing a range of  mitigation options, including high genetic merit cows (Waikato), low N fertilizer input (Waikato) and diverse pastures (Canterbury), have been completed. These data enable mitigation options to be considered within a farming system context.

    Methane emissions from cows grazing fodder beet during winter and early lactation can lead to a reduction of 10-20% under some conditions. This is an important result as industry uptake of fodder beet as a winter feed option and as a transition feed used on the milking platform in both late and early lactation is increasing. These findings together with data from the FRNL programme on fodder beet will enable farm systems modelling to understand the wider environmental impacts of increased fodder beet usage.

    Read more about this work

  • Sharing New Zealand's success story

    The Livestock Research Group of the Global Research Alliance is documenting countries’ successes in reducing on-farm emissions intensity of livestock production at the same time as addressing other concerns related to increasing productivity, increasing resource use efficiency, or reducing other externalities of their livestock systems.

    New Zealand submitted a case study about reducing the emissions intensity of livestock production on New Zealand farms.

    View the New Zealand case study (external website)

    Other countries success stories http://globalresearchalliance.org/research/livestock/ 

  • Fonterra: there are opportunities if we all work together

    Francesca Eggleton, Fonterra's Manager, Group Environment recently presented at the New Zealand agricultural greenhouse gas mitigation conference.

    Read more

  • 1115 Rick Pridmore, Strategy and Investment Leader for Sustainability (DairyNZ)

    Rick provided the conference delegates with an overview of the New Zealand investment landscape for reducing agricultural greenhouse gases.

    He highlighted that New Zealand is putting in a great deal of effort into reducing agricultural greenhouse gas emissions and conducting top class science, which in many areas is nearing proof of concept.

    Rick also emphasised that there are a significant number of funders in this area covering government, industry, the universities and CRIs.

    At the research end, the plans and investment are fairly coordinated, mainly due to the actions of the NZAGRC and PGgRc, however at the applied end there is room for improvement. This is primarily due to the fact that there are many issues to be considered on-farm and greenhouse gas emissions are just one of the factors in the mix.

    New Zealand farm greenhouse gas emissions intensity has been decreasing at approximately 1% per year due to increased efficiency and the goal is to keep this rate going into the future, but on top of that, reduce emissions intensity by a further 1.5% per year by additional technological options. This 1.5% may be achieved by step changes between 2020 and 2050, rather than a gradual decline.

    Rick outlined the four key research aims of the NZAGRC-PGgRc methane programme:

    • Animal Selection
    • Low greenhouse gas Feeds
    • Vaccine
    • Inhibitors

    Breaking News: In the last four months, five lead inhibitor compounds have been shown to reduce methane emissions from animals by 30-90%, which is very exciting. Once proof of concept has been firmly established, commercial partners will be sought to take prototype vaccines and inhibitors through into the hands of the farming community. See more about this 

    Rick concluded by pointing out that 10 years ago, the task of reducing agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions seemed enormous, and that we should all be proud that we are nearly there.

    Download presentation 

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