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NRT: Climate change: Good news on agriculture

Written By: - Date published: 2:05 pm, April 28th, 2015 - 18 comments
Categories: climate change, farming, global warming, science, sustainability - Tags: , ,

no-right-turn-256Reposted from No Right Turn.

New Zealand’s policy on climate change has been one of inaction, justified by excuses and special pleading. A key plank in this is our emissions profile. Roughly 50% of our greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture. We can’t do anything about them, so we don’t (and in practice we encourage farmers to convert land to dairy farms, increasing emissions even further, while turning our lakes and streams into toxic sewers).

But that excuse may not last for very long:

A team of AgResearch scientists has identified five compounds that reduce methane emissions from livestock by up to 90 percent in initial short-term trials, providing a technology that could significantly reduce New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions.


AgResearch principal scientist Peter Janssen, who co-ordinates the methane research programme, said the findings were the culmination of five years work, during which the team screened more than 100,000 compounds through computer-based searches and in laboratory experiments.

The screening process identified five compounds that have now been tested successfully in sheep, showing a significant reduction in methane production over a two-day period.

“The programme has been looking for new types of inhibitors of methane production from the rumen. This can be regarded as a first step in the process towards developing something that can be used on the farm.”

They expect to have a product within five years. Its great news, which promises to significantly reduce our agricultural emissions while improving farm productivity. To give an extent of the possible impact, last year enteric fermentation was responsible for 28.4 of the 81 million tons of emissions we produced. If they are as effective as suggested, then widespread use could knock 25 million tons off our national emissions, a cut of almost a third. In terms of targets, this is almost 40% of 1990 emissions, so when we’re aiming for a target cut of 50% by 2050, its a huge hit.

The problem, as always, is adoption. Because we’ve got a lot of technologies which would make a difference to our greenhouse gas emissions: biofuels, more fuel efficient vehicles, wind power and other renewables. And yet we haven’t adopted them on the scale that we need to. The market doesn’t work for this; from looking at uptake of energy efficiency, we know that polluters don’t adopt cleaner technology voluntarily even when its financially advantageous to do so. They need to be pushed (and pushed hard if we want rapid change). But our government and policy community are ideologically opposed to the sorts of policy tools which could do that. Hence why we’re still driving inefficient cars running on dead dinosaurs rather than wood waste, and why energy companies are still looking at building gas-fired power stations.

Our government spends money on climate change research. Now that that research has been successful, it needs to follow through by pushing for rapid adoption of the solutions it has found (and this time,ticking the food safety boxes properly). Anything less, and it will be clear that they were never really after solutions, but were just doing it as another PR exercise, a substitute for real action.

18 comments on “NRT: Climate change: Good news on agriculture ”

  1. Maui 1

    Seems a bit too good to be true to me like a magic potion, but maybe I’m being too cynical. Like technology can save us from consuming ourselves, which I think many people are also relying on.

    I wonder if the technology is easily transferrable to cows though.

    • Tracey 1.1

      I listened to that piece on RNZ yesterday afteroon.

      “They expect to have a product within five years.”

      They were asked when but I heard much more caution in the answer than the quoted bit suggests. They have to move on to see if there is a lasting impact or if the methane producing microbes move back in big numbers… to see if the quality of the animal is compromised, and if there is a negative impact on people eating the final product and so on.

      • dukeofurl 1.1.1

        In normal media terms this is called a “beatup”

        TVNZ is famous for its ‘cancer cure’ stories that we never hear from again.

        The usual reason why is people are too complex, and cows being mammals are too.

        Latest ‘bumpf’ story, is cows milked at night to provide a sort of sleeping potion for insomniacs.??

        How much you would have to take of this milk to achieve the necessary concentrations isnt said

        “The daily level of melatonin in the blood is about 20 to 70 pg/ml for young people (20-30 years old). It increases at night to about 125 pg/ml. “

  2. tinfoilhat 2

    Fantastic if it makes it from the laboratory to the farms around the world.

  3. Ennui 3

    So we cut methane from cows. Wow! Great.
    Then we leave as many or more cows creating the same huge pollution but this time with added compounds doing God only knows what down stream. Then we will deploy another techno fix to cure the first techno fix. Externalities unpaid. Profit for farming companies.

    • weka 3.1

      “There was an old lady who swallowed a fly…”

      I’m disappointed in such a BAU post from I/S.

    • Tracey 3.2

      Hence the testing is a long way off from producing a final product. I think I/S is slightly misrepresenting the speaker with “They expect to have a product within five years.”

  4. Corokia 4

    The emissions from dairying DON’T just come from the cows. Fossil fuel powered milk tankers drive over 80 million kms a year, Fonterra uses 5,500 gigawatts of, mostly fossil fuel, energy a year to make milk powder. The emissions from those will be huge, but will be counted in with transport and manufacturing. Dairy farming cheerleaders constantly claim that we must expand intensive dairying to ‘feed the world’ and that the emissions are worth it, but they hide the true figure of GHG emissions that are released by the industry as a whole.

  5. Murray Rawshark 5

    I think the falling price of milk products will do more to cut emissions from cows, and will have an effect sooner than five years.

  6. Richard Christie 6

    showing a significant reduction in methane production over a two-day period

    2 days? Does that mean the substance must be reintroduced into the animal every two days?

    • Tracey 6.1

      hence they are only a small way through their research. It’s worth a listen to the whole thing on RNZ (afternoon yesterday).

  7. Sable 7

    Bad news is we have a government that don’t give a shit about the environment. Labour are little better, just look at their indifference to the plight of our rivers.

  8. saveNZ 8

    Totally true, we have the technology, the problem is adoption and willingness to do that.

    Big business is keeping innovation at bay so they can keep their profits (or losses in the case of Solid Energy/Pike River Mine) going with zero scrutiny. And the government is cheering them on.

  9. Adrian 9

    It all sounds like wishful thinking. I’m not an expert but I thought the Laws of Physics says that there can be no loss of energy so if the methane is not exhaled or farted ( and exhalation far exceeds farting ) then the methane must be transferred through the microbial activity to a bound state in shit or somesuch.
    Or of course the grass is not eaten but is left to rot or die and decompose and release methane etc, the same way as the shit and the microbe do eventually.

  10. Of course. Our systemic choices aren’t the problem, the animals are broken. Fix them with technology. Then we won’t have to change. Voila!


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