Future farm systems

Tackling greenhouse gas emissions


By Jeremy Savage, Farm Management Consultant at Macfarlane Rural Business Ltd (MRB)
The Climate Change Commission has made these recommendations on how New Zealand can meet our greenhouse gas emission obligations: • Reduce numbers of dairy cows, beef cows and sheep by 15% by 2030 – while maintaining current production levels. • Land use change from dairy farming to horticulture of around 2000 hectares per year from 2025.


Silver bullet?

There is no one silver bullet that will get us to these targets while allowing us to farm in exactly the same way as we do now. However, the good news is that the trajectory NZ has been on for over a decade is in the right direction.

Over the past 12 years of our Dairy Systems Monitoring (DSM) data, MRB has observed, for example: • Pasture harvested is only lifting 0.3% per year (0.7% for top farms). It had a 1% lift including farm system change of adding fodder beet into the farm programme. This lines up well with the science which suggests we are achieving a 0.8% lift in genetic gain in yield through our pasture breeding programmes. • Average per cow production is +1.7% (top 25% 1.3%). This is similar to 1.8% claims by the Livestock Improvement Corporation for genetic gain through their breeding programmes. By coincidence (or design) the commission’s recommendation to drop cows by 15% (1.7% pa), while maintaining total production, lines up very well with the MRB client base lifts in per cow over the last 12 years.


How do we stay on course for the 2030 deadline?

It’s a combination of application of science alongside changes to land management that will get us there. 1. Dropping stocking rate (gradually). Our DSM data confirms the science, that the genetic gain of our cows is faster than the genetic gain of our pastures. To allow cows to express their genetic potential on pasture, we need to drop the stocking rate every year so the cows can eat more and produce more on grass. If we rely on supplements for the lift, we are lifting greenhouse gas. 2. Focus on rapid genetic gain. We have more tools available. Sexed semen across our genetically superior cows is a great way in increase genetic gain. Focus on herd records, reliability and accuracy is also key in improving your herd quality. The NZ herd has stopped growing – this gives it a great opportunity to be improved. 3. Improving pasture management. To continue the trajectory improving efficiency of milk production, it is vital that we achieve the increases in per cow production on a pasture-based diet. Continuous improvement in pasture management is a – or even the – key driver to the success of this target.
Land use change is already happening across NZ, and will continue to increase in Canterbury. In Tasman we have noted a significant change in land use with many dairy farms planted with hops, and in Golden Bay, as well as Northland, a number of farmers closing the cowsheds rather than meet the current compliance obligations or keep milking cows.

Land use change is very real, especially when other economic options are available, or the demand for lifestyle outweighs the demand for profit.

In short: keep doing what you’re doing, and trust the science. We are tracking well to meet these obligations.

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