The OECD (Organisation For Co-operation and Economic Development) recently produced an Environmental Performance Review of New Zealand’s progress in preserving its natural resources over the past 10 years.
The pastoral sector “score card” was less than flattering. It is well documented that almost half of New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture, in the form of methane from sheep and cattle. Meanwhile, water quality has steadily declined in some regions, with the main pollutants being nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus), sediment and pathogens.
Sheep and beef cattle production is still a major land use in New Zealand and the sector’s livestock rely on pasture or crop for almost 100 per cent of their diet.
Over the past 20 years, significant practice change has resulted in animal production increasing, despite a dramatic decline in livestock numbers – 20 million less sheep and 1.5 million less beef cattle. The annual lambing percentage has increased by 23 percentage points (from 98 per cent in 1987, to 121 per cent in 2013), while carcass weights for lambs have increased 4 kilograms to 18 kilograms, today.
Examples of changing farm practices include pregnancy scanning, body condition scoring, use of terminal sires, improved genetics and breeding at younger ages.
With little change in stock numbers per hectare and a 72 per cent lift in sheep meat production, efficiencies have been created with a much lower carbon footprint.
When it comes to sediment and nutrient pollution of water, B+LNZ is assisting drystock farmers by increasing their understanding of potential regional regulations and providing practical, equitable on-farm solutions.
B+LNZ Environmental Focus Farms play a vital role in helping farmers identify practices that will improve environmental and financial performance. This involves promoting management practices that reduce sediment and nutrients from entering streams.
The two focus sheep and beef farms lie in different catchments – Te Puke and Te Miro – and host regular field days to show farmers what is happening and how they can follow suit.
Attending a Land and Environment Planning workshop is another way farmers can learn about environmental risks and how to mitigate them. It involves a land, water and soil stocktake and an assessment of a farm’s individual environmental issues. Planning allows the work to be budgeted and carried out in a timely manner. B+LNZ has several workshops scheduled over coming months.
As OECD Environmental Director Simon Upton says: “New Zealand’s unique natural environment is part of its cultural identity and a pillar of its economic growth, but can’t be taken for granted.”
For upcoming events and workshops in your area, see our events calendar