A recent report from the United Nations contained a stunning statistic: One industry is responsible for nearly 20% of the greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere worldwide. It isn’t long-haul trucking, or air travel, or steel-smelting factories, or any of the other exhaust-belching suspects usually associated with environmental woes. It is the livestock industry.
In “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” released in 2006, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations reported that raising and processing cattle, hogs, poultry and other animals produces 18% of greenhouse gases; just 13% comes from trucks, cars and other transportation. Greenhouse gases—those produced directly by animals, and indirectly through the need to transport grain and meat—are only part of the problem.
A National Emissions Trading Scheme called a “Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme” (CPRS) is proposed to start in Australia in 2010. Although agriculture accounts for 16% of Australia’s emissions, agriculture will be exempt from the Australian scheme until technology allows for accuracy in accounting for carbon in agriculture (proposed for inclusion in 2013). Currently, under the Kyoto Emission Trading Scheme rules, many of the agricultural practices that achieve reduced emissions on-farm, such as managing soil carbon and nitrous fertiliser applications, are not recognised and therefore cannot be counted.
The aim of the scheme will be to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60% by 2050. Initially, this scheme will only apply to 700 medium and large companies and will address over 70% of greenhouse gas emissions in the covered sectors (excludes agriculture).
The effect greenhouse gasses have on the atmosphere is measured in Carbon dioxide equivalents (C02-e) and the major greenhouse gasses from the Australian dairy industry are methane (NH4), nitrous oxide(N20) and carbon dioxide (CO2). Average annual emissions per head from dairy cattle are 24,000kg CO2-e.
Over the next couple of years significant research across agricultural industries will take place to develop and implement technologies to address carbon accounting and, where possible, productivity outcomes resulting in reduced carbon output. Further industry specific research will be conducted to address opportunities associated with increasing on-farm efficiencies and therefore reducing carbon output per unit of production.
Despite agriculture not being included in the CPRS until at least 2013, it is expected that farming inputs such as fertilizer, water and energy are likely to rise. As such, targeting of these farming inputs will be highly important to maintain efficient and profitable farming systems.
What can you do on your farm to maintain profitable production?
- Matching irrigation to crop requirements (timing/ scheduling).
- Maintaining good soil structure helps to ensure optimal conditions for plant growth including increased water storage capacity.
- Avoiding soil compaction by stubble retention, implementing conservation farming and controlled traffic techniques.
- Maintaining ground cover throughout the year, growing a green manure crop, hay crop or pasture will reduce nitrogen losses as well as other benefits including weed control , increasing microbial activity, reducing moisture loss, improving water infiltration and prevention of soil erosion.
- matching nitrogen supply with the requirement of the crop.
Manure and effluent management:
- Composting manure stockpiles reduces greenhouse gas emissions as well as offering other benefits including killing of pathogens and weed seeds and the potential reduction of odour.
Improving feed conversion
- Grinding or pelleting of feed has shown an improvement in its digestability and also a corresponding 20-40% reduction in methane loss per unit of feed intake.
- Improving pasture and feed quality will increase feed intake – which will increase productivity and therefore methane emissions per kg of milk is reduced.
- Selecting animals with a fast rate of passage of food through the rumen offers the opportunity to reduce daily methane emissions without reducing livestock numbers.
- Removing low or unproductive animals will help avoid inefficient consumption of feed.