Agricultural greenhouse gases & the New Zealand beef & sheep sectors

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. 
  • New Zealand's beef, wool and sheep meat industries contribute eight, 27 and 75% respectively, to their world marketplaces.

What's changed in the beef & sheep sectors since 1990 in on farm practices?

Beef

  • Reduction in breeding herd numbers
  • Increased number of finishing cattle - use of dairy origin animals for finishing
  • Feed management strategies
  • Pasture management strategies

Sheep

  • Breeding and flock testing for animals with improved genetic merit (gorwth, reproduction)
  • Use of pregnancy scanning
  • Hogget mating
  • Pasture management (growth quality)
  • Optimisation of stock numbers to pasture growth

What's the impact of these on farm changes on productivity?

Beef

  • Faster growth rates
  • Increased finished weight of animal
  • Increased meat yield per hectare (kg meat/ha) 

Sheep

  • Increased lambing percentage
  • Increased number of offspring per ewe
  • Increased finished weight of animal (lamb)
  • Increased meat yield per hectare (kg meat/ha)

What's the effect of these changes on emissions intensity? 

Emissions intensity of New Zealand beef and sheep sector is lower.  For the beef sector, a great proportion of feed goes to production rather than maintenance and for the sheep sector, a lower ewe population is producing the equivalent lamb meat.

What's the latest from industry?

Beef+Lamb New Zealand Read more

On farm practice change summary tables

Beef

On farm practice Effect on farm productivity Effect on emissions intensity (net)

Reduction in breeding herd numbers

 

Increased number of finishing cattle - use of dairy origin animals for finishing 

 

Feed management strategies

 

Pasture management strategies 

Faster growth rates

 

Increased finished weight of animal

 

Increased meat yield per hectare (kg meat/ha) 

Lower

 

* A greater proportion of feed going to production rather than maintenance *


Sheep

On farm practice Effect on farm productivity Effect on emissions intensity (net)

Breeding and flock testing for animals with improved genetic merit (gorwth, reproduction)

 

Use of pregnancy scanning

 

Hogget mating

 

Pasture management (growth quality)

 

Optimisation of stock numbers to pasture growth

Increased lambing percentage 

 

Increased number of offspring per ewe

 

Increased finished weight of animal (lamb)

 

Increased meat yield per hectare (kg meat/ha) 

 

Lower

 

* Lower ewe population needed to produce equivalent lamb meat *

 

What else is being done to lower emissions on farm?

The NZAGRC is working in partnership with the PGgRc to explore options to mitigate GHGs on New Zealand farms.  An overview publication is available for download

pdf NZAGRC_PGgRC_What are we doing_ed2.pdf (17.12MB)

or you can read about our research programme

More information

Greenhouse gas awareness of livestock's contribution to emissions rises among farmers

More farmers are aware of the impact of livestock on global warming, says an agricultural greenhouse research expert.

New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre director Dr Harry Clark said farmer awareness of their greenhouse gas contribution was at a much higher level than 15 years ago.

This extended to growing recognition of international agreement to cut greenhouse gases, such as the Paris agreement, he said.

"There is growing awareness now of the unusual greenhouse gas profile here, dominated by agriculture," he told about 150 people at the recent mitigation of greenhouse gas conference in Palmerston North. "To meet our international commitments, we have to think carefully about what we do with the agricultural sector. I think 15 years ago, you wouldn't have seen that awareness."
 
However, other than more efficient production, greenhouse mitigation on New Zealand farms was years away, Clark said.

"Worldwide in general in the developed world people are more aware, but in very poor countries they have other things to think about, such as food supply and food safety."

The research centre was funded by the Government and overseas investment. Clark said it would be true to say that politicians were also more engaged.

Farmer awareness in developing nations often centred on how to adapt to climate change such as coping with more rain or more desert, rather than halting greenhouse gas production, he said.

"But in New Zealand, we have these strong international agreements, on reducing climate change."

He said many emissions in the US and Europe came from industrial plants, such as power plants and from cars.

"You can get electric cars, and cleaner plants and a lot of those emissions will come down. Then unfortunately the focus will go on agriculture."

To get emissions down so global warming was 2 degrees Celsius or less, carbon dioxide emissions would have to hit zero this century, he said.

"Once you tackle those gases, then the proportion of gases change, and greater emphasis comes on agriculture."

Animals produce methane, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide. "Really, to tackle global warming, and keeping it to less than 2 degrees, we have to tackle carbon dioxide and the other gases need to be addressed, too."

That needed to happen against the backdrop of another two or three billion people added to the world population - and that scenario was scary, he said. 

MAKING CHANGES

Agriculture could make changes, Clark said. "The sectors have talked about efficiency, for instance, the sheep and beef industry saying it produces the same amount of meat with far less animals and fewer emissions.  

"[However] That only takes us so far. Then we need new technology." New Zealand's grass-based system was one of the most difficult to find greenhouse gas mitigation systems, Clark said.

"If you have animals indoors, and you are feeding them every day, then there are things you can do, such as manipulate the feed, and there are some compounds coming. But these you have to feed every day.  How do you do that to a sheep on the hillside? It is hard for an extensive system."

Clark said New Zealand's immediate priority was to increase efficiency.

​"We need to do more research to develop new technologies. It is difficult to say when they will come along, but what we can say is very good progress has been made on the experimental side. However, then to go from experimental to something that works on farm and is available commercially, takes a number of years."

He said technology had to meet regulatory values and the nitrification inhibitor dicyandiamide, known as DCD and recalled from shelves in 2003, was a salutary lesson. 

"It has to be safe for people - have no residues, and safe for animals."


Back to News

Members