Recording on-farm emissions will provide superior data compared to the Government’s on-farm modelling guess work, Waikato farmer Chris Lewis says.
Pressure on farmers to record and reduce greenhouse gas emissions could ultimately fuel demand for electric powered motorbikes, tractors and other farm machinery.
Fonterra farmers are reading through the detail of their first greenhouse gas emissions profile, issued mid-October.
The dairy co-op asked its farmers to start recording on-farm emissions, alongside nitrogen use, to identify opportunities to make improvements.
Waikato farmer Chris Lewis supplies milk to Open Country Dairy but had already recorded on-farm emissions and nitrogen use through a fertiliser company.
Chris Lewis says farming practices are changing every year to keep pace with the expectations of Government, dairy producers and consumers.
Lewis said recording data on his farm’s fuel consumption was part of the report.
He reckoned it would push a case to develop more technology for electric-powered farm vehicles, to cut out emissions from motorbikes and tractors using petrol and diesel.
“I know a few people who have got electric motorbikes, they’re not raving about them, so I don’t think we’re quite there yet.
“But the demand will mean technology gets developed quickly and in five or seven years, electric motorbikes will be commonplace around farms.
Lewis invested in a new rotary milking parlour with technology to increase efficiency. There’s also been investment in better genetics to produce more milk from fewer cows.
“I can see them having more power than a petrol engine and being more responsive and efficient.
“The technology will become more affordable and I think the case for electric bikes will come along pretty easily.”
Lewis is a national board member of Federated Farmers and a former president of the organisation’s Waikato branch.
He milks 970 cows on his family farm in Pukeatua, near Cambridge.
Lewis reckons quad bikes, like this one he uses, will soon convert to electric power as farmers seek to lower their on-farm emissions.
“Our farming practices aren’t what they were five or 10 years ago because, like a lot of other industries, we’re being expected to lift our performance.”
He agreed that understanding emissions and nitrogen levels would help farmers work out where they could make improvements.
“You can’t start to reduce your emissions if you don’t know what they are in the first place.”
A big part of the calculation came down to feed and production.
“The more you feed your cows, the more they produce, and production has a direct impact on your greenhouse gas number, and your nitrogen number.”
To lower the number, Lewis said farmers could reduce the size of a herd, which also potentially reduced production.
“Or you can look at better breeding in animals, to produce more milk from fewer cows.”
There were also vaccines and inhibitors being developed to reduce methane from cows.
“But the science isn’t perfect yet and we’ve got experts arguing with experts over what’s best.
“So the best thing I can focus on is making my farm the most efficient it can be.
“I have a feed plan and nitrogen plan. I use the best breeding genetics for my herd to have more efficient cows.”
Renewing farm vehicles and machinery with more efficient models, with lower emissions, was paramount.
“I think the country as a whole is constantly being challenged to change and improve, and we’re all pretty good at picking up technology and adapting.
“The Government might want to make [emissions reporting] mandatory but I think they should be targeting those lagging behind, rather than those who are already performing well.”
Fonterra said it was keen to encourage farmers to reduce on-farm emissions from a market perspective, as well as a regulatory one.
It recognised more customers and consumers were motivated by issues around climate change.
“By Fonterra providing greenhouse gas reports for farmers, we are able to start to build an awareness and understanding to help them consider changes they might implement,” the company said in a statement.
“There is no right or wrong way for a farmer to respond to their reports.
“For some farmers it might show some opportunities to do something differently, and for others it might just be a useful way to grow awareness and understanding on their own level of emissions.”