IPCC report on agriculture supports NZ’s sheep and beef farm systems 

The Intergovernmental Panel report on Climate and Land demonstrates New Zealand lamb and beef produced as part of a low emissions farming system can help address climate change.
Saturday, 10 August 2019

The report outlines a raft of recommendations for mitigating and adapting to climate change, many of which New Zealand farmers are already doing including integrating trees on farms; maintaining good soil carbon; and operating low input, well managed grazing systems.  

“The report highlights that agriculture and livestock farming has a role to play in addressing climate change, and identifies sustainably produced livestock products from sustainable, low greenhouse gas emission farming systems as being part of the solution,” says Jeremy Baker, Chief Insight Officer at Beef + Lamb New Zealand.  

“While our farmers have made good progress, the job is not done and we are committed to continuing to improve our environmental footprint.”

Contrary to some suggestions, the report is clear that sustainably produced livestock products will continue to have a role to play in feeding the world: 

“Balanced diets, featuring plant-based foods, such as those based on coarse grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and animal-sourced food produced in resilient, sustainable and low-GHG emission systems, present major opportunities for adaptation and mitigation while generating significant co-benefits in terms of human health.” (IPCC report) 

“New Zealand’s sustainable sheep and beef farm systems are well matched with what the report’s authors are talking about. In particular, the report focuses on ensuring that land is matched with the most suitable food production use for it,” says Mr Baker.   

“While the pastoral livestock sector does need to continue to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, it’s pleasing that the IPCC report reinforces that New Zealand is already a leader in this space.”

The report highlights the importance of soil carbon and the role it can potentially play in mitigating climate change. New Zealand has young soils with high carbon contents compared to the rest of the world.  

The IPCC’s research will also be of interest to New Zealand policy makers as they consider how much of a role forestry should play in combating climate change.

“The IPCC encourage the integration of trees into farming systems, but found that while large scale afforestation can provide opportunities for carbon sequestration, there are also range of other issues that need to be taken into account from this approach.” 

ENDS 

Notes for editors: 

Since 1990 the New Zealand sheep and beef sector has reduced its absolute greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent while maintaining similar levels of production and doubling the value of its exports. 

Research by Caroline Saunders in 2009 showed that New Zealand lamb exported to the UK had a lower carbon footprint than United Kingdom lamb, even taking into account transportation emissions of shipping New Zealand lamb to Europe.

Research by Professor David Norton of the University of Canterbury has shown that New Zealand’s sheep and beef farms are home to some 2.8 million hectares of native vegetation, including 1.4 million hectares of native forest, much of which is believed to be regenerating since the 1980s when marginal land was retired with the end of government subsidies.  Research is currently being undertaken to measure the amount of sequestration by these native trees, but it is likely to be significant.  

Analysis by B+LNZ’s Economic Service has shown that only 7 percent of the land on sheep and beef farms is suitable for cropping or horticulture due to its slope, with most of this land already being used for those activities as part of the mosaic of activities that take place on sheep and beef farms. 

New Zealand’s sheepmeat and beef production also compares well internationally in terms of extracted (e.g. not from rainfall) water use, with New Zealand beef requiring just 45 litres per kilogram of beef, and 20 litres per kilogram of sheepmeat, with processing only adding another 20 to 70 litres a kilogram. For comparison, international researchers have shown that beef from feedlots, including production and processing, requires 680 litres of extracted water. 

For more information, please contact Beef + Lamb New Zealand’s Senior Communications Advisor Gwynn Compton on 027 838 6353.