Carbon positive farming? Absolutely! | Functional Fertiliser

Carbon positive farming? Absolutely!

The last article was written prior to the release of the Climate Change Commission’s draft plan for slashing New Zealand’s emissions.

From the article ominously titled, The Government will not hold back, there is a call for a 15% reduction in animal numbers, less reliance on brought in feed, and a marked reduction in methane and nitrous oxide emissions.

Interestingly Federated Farmers response has been along the lines of, they’re tough standards but knew they were coming, and probably doable provided the solutions are science lead.

The solutions in our view will not be science lead because agreement amongst scientists doesn’t, and will never exist.

Emotion drives decision making and when, after considering how a proposal will affect us personally, we take a position and then look for the data, or ‘science’, that supports.

Government will roll out data that shows the pastoral industry must mend its ways and farm within regulations determined by bureaucrats far removed from practical day to day farming reality.

It should never have got to this point when it is pastoral farming that can significantly reduce atmospheric CO2 levels, and with a marked reduction of this gas there will be a corresponding drop in methane and nitrous oxide.

It is rapidly growing plants that are hungry for carbon dioxide as it is essential for the formation of both proteins and sugars.

When pastures are operating efficiently the carbon content is held in the soil in the form of humus which provides increased storage for plant nutrients and moisture.

Carbon provides the filter reducing the loss of nitrogen as well as other nutrients. Because pasture is being regularly eaten and therefore in a constant growth phase, carbon dioxide is always in demand.

Forestry is useful while trees are rapidly growing however when they reach maturity the gains are no more than the natural losses. The same applies to mature native bush which at maturity is carbon neutral.

It is permanent grazed pasture that provides the best long term means of New Zealand meeting its carbon targets so why is pastoral farming not trumpeting its virtues.

The answer is that not all pastoral farming is capturing carbon dioxide and storing the carbon component.

A 2011 article by Bay of Plenty Regional Council contains the following, “Most pastoral soils in New Zealand are generally considered to be rich in organic carbon…. However, recent research has shown that in intensive lowland livestock systems (e.g. dairying), soils have lost organic carbon by an average of 1 tonne carbon/ha/yr over the last 20 -30 years while in hilly land soils organic carbon levels have increased.”

The key difference between hill country farming and intensive dairying is the use of urea.  Urea relies on soil carbon for the initial growth response and with continuous use soil carbon can be steadily lost.

We suggest that the science fraternity focus on this because there are systems that use no urea and grow more total pasture annually, produce more from fewer animals, and have a markedly lower overall environmental footprint.

Urea is reliant on the continued supply of large amounts of natural gas and there is already a determination to reduce its production.

For intensive dairy to change from a net loss of carbon to one that is carbon positive requires only a change of attitude by industry leaders.

The data required is already available and although the urea industry will take a hit, pastoral farming in this country can, by the end of this parliamentary term, be regarded as an essential provider of health food with an unchallenged long-term future.

For more information contact Peter 0800 843 809

Peter Burton, 8 Feb 2021

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