Farmers care about climate but emissions still an enigma

The annual Agricultural Climate Change conference on 8th and 9th April was the setting for the release of Nielsen’s latest research, which shows that farmers are now more focused on sustainability and the impacts of climate change than
ever before.

The survey was commissioned by the Ministry for Primary Industries through the Sustainable Land Management and Climate Change Research programme.

Key findings included that 92 percent of farmers are focused on making their farm more environmentally sustainable – up from 78 percent in the last survey conducted in 2009. Some actions farmers have undertaken are riparian/shelter planting, waterway control, improved fertiliser management and more efficient irrigation systems. Another key finding is that only 23 percent of farmers anticipate an increased focus on reducing their greenhouse gas emissions in the next 5 years.

This follows on from the Biological Emissions Reference Group (BERG) report, released in December, which identified that, while there are many solutions, the agricultural situation varies from farm-to-farm and so requires tailored emissions solutions and integrated farm planning tools.

Minister of Agriculture, Damien O’Connor, who presented at the Palmerston North conference, spoke about the serious threat of climate change for farmers and growers – as witnessed by the recent floods in his own West Coast electorate.

“They need to prepare to cope with the intensifying weather effects of climate change and at the same time reduce their environmental footprint – that takes investment in infrastructure and means you need to be financially viable,” Damien says.

The Minister also discussed the government’s focus on climate change support initiatives. These include investment in the further development of Overseer to make it a more userfriendly tool, a focus on developing one integrated farm management plan to meet all farm requirements, and assistance in identifying suitable and available land for planting trees.

The Interim Climate Change Committee is set to provide recommendations on addressing agricultural emissions to government. It is hoped this will provide some certainty to enable rural communities to make long-term decisions. The event was organised by the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre and attracted 270 delegates, including policy makers, science professionals, agrisector leaders and farmers. Support was high, with attendance up by 80 percent on last year’s number. Director of External Relations Mark McHardy attended the conference on behalf of Farmlands Co-operative. Speakers from the Ministry for Primary Industries, Ministry for the Environment, Nielsen, Synlait and NIWA presented, as did Anders Crofoot from the iconic Castlepoint Station in the Wairarapa. Anders was previously on the Federated Farmers’ Board and was spokesperson for climate change. His message at the conference suggested that an incremental and transitional approach is key for farmers in adapting to climate change.