New study shows sheep and beef farms close to being carbon neutral

The study found on average around 90 percent of emissions are being absorbed.
The study found on average around 90 percent of emissions are being absorbed. Photo credit: Getty

A new study shows New Zealand sheep and beef farms are already offsetting the bulk of their agricultural emissions.

The research - led by Dr Bradley Case at Auckland University of Technology (AUT) - estimates the woody vegetation on sheep and beef farms across the country is offsetting between 63 percent and 118 percent of on-farm agricultural emissions.

If the mid-point of that range is taken, on average around 90 percent of emissions are being absorbed.

Dr Case, who is a senior lecturer in GIS and remote sensing at AUT's Applied Ecology Department in the School of Science, said the findings showed there was a strong case for farmers to get credit for the sequestration already happening on their farms.

"This is an integral part of He Waka Eke Noa, the regulatory framework that industry and Government are currently developing to manage agricultural emissions and recognise on-farm sequestration," said Dr Case.

"This research not only builds understanding of the overall greenhouse gas contribution of the sheep and beef sector, but will help inform the development of policy, and further reinforce the outstanding biodiversity on sheep and beef farms."

According to the report, woody vegetation covers around 2 million hectares  - or just under 20 percent - of all sheep and beef land area across the country and is made up of 1.52 million hectares of native forest and 0.48 hectares of exotic vegetation.

Dr Case said the net carbon emissions estimation assumed a net-neutral rate for soil sequestration so the amount of sequestration happening could be even higher.

The sheep and beef sector is responsible for about 20 percent of the country's total, and 45 percent of its agricultural, gross emissions, according to the report.

The study was funded by Beef + Lamb New Zealand and peer reviewed by Dr Fiona Carswell, chief scientist at Landcare Research, and Dr Adam Forbes, senior ecologist at the University of Canterbury.

Beef + Lamb New Zealand's chief executive Sam McIvor said since 1990, there has been a 30 percent reduction in absolute greenhouse emissions from sheep and beef production in the country.

"This research shows that of the remaining emissions, the vast majority are being offset by the trees on our farms and New Zealand sheep and beef farmers are well on the way to being carbon neutral by 2050."

McIvor said the study showed the importance of farmers getting formal recognition for the sequestration happening on their land.

"Currently, most vegetation on sheep and beef farms does not qualify for inclusion in the ETS [Emissions Trading Scheme] because it does not meet the definition of a forest.

"If farmers are to face a price for agricultural emissions, it's only fair they get credit for their sequestration."