Wednesday, 18 December 2013

An Economist’s Perspective on Value

Post written by C. Will

Motu has just released a Note on “Value and Natural Capital: Examining the Economist’s Perspective” written by Josh Pemberton and Suzi Kerr. The paper considers what economics brings to a conversation about environmental value, and what the limits of its contribution might be.

Many of you will have experienced how different people can view the same problem or issue in various ways. With this in mind, this paper seeks to highlight and examine the assumptions and implicit goals that underpin the way in which economists think about value in general, and environmental value in particular. 

FAO Report

Post written by C. Will

New Zealand (NZ) has relatively low emissions per unit of dairy production. So can NZ farmers share the skills and technologies that allow such low emissions to help lower global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions?

The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) released a report in 2010 that looked into GHG emissions from the global dairy sector. Although the report is from 2010, it has some interesting findings worth discussing. In particular, a comparison of GHG emissions per kg of Fat and Protein Corrected Milk (FPCM) across different regions (see graph below).

Source: Gerber, P., Vellinga, T., Opio, C., Henderson, B., & Steinfeld, H. (2010). Greenhouse Gas Emissions from the Dairy Sector, A Life Cycle Assessment. FAO Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations. Animal Production and Health Division, Rome. Page 34.

FPCM is a way of comparing milk produced from different dairy animals on a common basis by equating the level of fat and protein in the milk. The graph highlights where milk production is the most GHG emissions intensive and therefore the least efficient. There is a clear trend showing developing regions (Africa and Asia) having higher emissions than more industrialized regions (Europe and North America). 

We have been told that NZ emissions are even lower than the rest of Oceania; approximately 0.9 per kg of FPCM. This gives an idea how efficient NZ farming is and supports a comment in a previous blog that touched on the difference in efficiency between NZ farmers and farming in Africa. 

Monday, 16 December 2013

Thin Ice

Post Written by C. Will

Thin Ice is a New Zealand created movie that follows Simon Lamb (Victoria University of Wellington) as he travels around the world meeting the scientists behind climate change. The film is intended to help people develop a better understanding of climate change. The film also gives an introduction to the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Assessment Report.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Livestock: The answer, not the problem?

Post written by C. Will

Seth Itzkan of Planet-TECH discusses how holistic management can restore grass lands and reverse the effects of climate change in his TEDx talk; “How global warming can be mitigated through holistic management”.

In the video, Seth discusses his experiences in Zimbabwe and how the village herders have changed the way they manage their livestock. Using holistic management, they have replenished grasslands and during the dry season surface water is occurring further upstream than before. Increased availability of surface water has made farming easier and removed the need for water pumps, saving money. Regenerating grasslands also increases soil sequestration, reducing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.

Holistic management uses livestock in a way that mimics wild herds which were a key component in the ecosystem when grasslands thrived. The wild herds would graze, naturally process the grass, fertilise the ground and then move onto a new area. The villagers are now replicating this process by running livestock in dense packs and moving them regularly just as a wild herd would. They also stick to grazing plans to prevent over grazing.         

Although his focus is on environments that have suffered desertification (the transformation of habitable land to desert), parallels can be made between the framework of holistic management and the way farmers in New Zealand manage their stock. Relative to farmers in Africa though, New Zealand farmers have lower emissions per unit of production and are more efficient. However, even in New Zealand many farmers can apply management strategies other farmers are already using to reduce their environmental impact. A recent Motu working paper, looks at such mitigation possibilities.

Holistic management was a way of managing resources originally developed by Allan Savory. Here Allan offers further discussion on holistic management and “how to fight desertification and reverse climate change”.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

A Negotiator’s Perspective: the Future of Agriculture in the UNFCCC Negotiations

Post written by H. Griffin.

With this year’s annual international climate change (UNFCCC) negotiations kicking off in Warsaw on Monday, now is a good time to look at agriculture’s place in the negotiations and where things might be headed in the future. 

Due in part to socio-economic and food security issues, progress in agricultural negotiations within the UNFCCC has been very slow. This is because of the role agriculture plays as a source of employment for many of the world’s poor, and the fact that many developing countries have had recent experiences of drought induced famine.

A new agreement is currently being negotiated and is expected to come into force in 2020 at the end of the Kyoto Protocol’s second commitment period. Whilst the Kyoto Protocol placed mitigation obligations on industrialised nations, the post-2020 agreement will be applicable to all nations. The negotiations are currently in a phase of design and preparation for the post-2020 agreement. It is particularly important that progress on mitigation and adaptation in the agricultural sector is made in preparation for the next agreement.

To give us a better idea about what is going on in the negotiations, Paul Melville from the Ministry for Primary Industries has kindly agreed to be interviewed for this blog. Paul is in Warsaw with the New Zealand government delegation as a negotiator in the area of agriculture.

Q. What is New Zealand hoping to achieve in relation to agriculture at the negotiations in Warsaw?

A. The discussions on Agriculture had a breakthrough at the inter-sessional meeting in Bonn this year. After many years of inconclusive negotiations, Parties agreed to a submission and workshop process as a first step of SBSTA (Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice) work on Agriculture. This will be a useful opportunity for Parties to share experiences and lessons learned on agricultural adaptation and adaptation co-benefits. This workshop should facilitate more focussed negotiations on agriculture at Warsaw and future SBSTA sessions.

A successful work programme would aim to provide the UNFCCC with detailed scientific advice on issues relating to agriculture. One workshop will however unlikely deliver this. Though, it is often said that the hardest part of any process is taking the first step. The challenge for COP19/Warsaw is to ensure that Bonn was the first step in a wider process by continuing and building upon this work. If Warsaw was to fail to continue the progress made in Bonn we risk falling back into the previous pattern.

Q. What role can New Zealand play, both within and outside of the negotiations?

A. New Zealand likes to be a flexible thought leader wherever possible, piloting new ideas and working with a broad range of countries. We have expertise and a particular interest in issues related to agriculture, forestry and carbon markets.

Q. How is domestic policy in New Zealand relating to agricultural GHG emissions influenced by the international context?

A. There is a two-way relationship between domestic and international policy: domestic policy in New Zealand influences New Zealand’s international position; and international policy has an influence on New Zealand’s domestic policy.

While there is an influence in both directions, the two remain different. We promote international rules and commitments that are suitable for New Zealand’s domestic circumstances; and once agreed we implement commitments and rules using policies and measures that best suit our domestic policy environment.

Q. In your opinion, what would be the best outcome for agriculture in the post-2020 agreement?

A. The agricultural sector faces unique challenges. Agriculture is responsible for approximately 10–12 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and is also an extremely vulnerable sector to the impacts of climate change. In addition to the challenge of having to simultaneously manage greenhouse gas emissions while adapting to climate change, it is forecast by the FAO that global agriculture will be required to increase production by 70 percent by 2050 to meet rising demand.

Outlining a best outcome for agriculture is difficult at this early stage of the negotiations as we are still working collectively in the UNFCCC on the design of the post-2020 agreement. However, by focusing on what we do know we can begin to understand what a good outcome for agriculture could look like.

We know the post-2020 agreement will include measures that will be ‘applicable to all’ Parties. We assume it will include, amongst other things, mitigation, adaptation and finance. We know that agricultural systems, including considerations of capacity, scale, culture, environment, efficiency and productivity are extremely varied, and it will probably not be possible to design a one size fits all rule set.

Therefore, in order to remain applicable to all, a key feature of any treatment of agriculture will be a need to adopt an approach with sufficient flexibility to cater for this broad range of national circumstances. In this sense, although agriculture has its own unique features, the broad principle of ensuring Parties are able to take commitments consistent with their specific national circumstances remains relevant here, too. New Zealand has outlined a concept of ‘Bounded Flexibility’ in a number of fora including the below submission which builds on this idea of a flexible framework.

Beyond outlining that any treatment will need to be sufficiently flexible to cater for national circumstances, it is very hard to predict or prescribe outcomes for a post-2020 agreement at this early stage.

About Paul:
I am a Senior Policy Analyst in the Ministry for Primary Industries International Policy Team. Our team covers environmental policy related to forestry or agriculture. In addition to agriculture in the UNFCCC, I also have responsibilities related to common metrics in the UNFCCC (global warming potentials), environmental footprinting policy and carbon footprinting policy. Prior to working for MPI I was a member of Fonterra’s Sustainability team. While at university and high school I paid my bills by milking cows and operating a successful calf rearing business on my parent’s dairy farm near Te Awamutu.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

New Motu Working Paper Shows Significant Potential for Better Farm Management Practices to Improve Environmental Outcomes

Post written by H. Griffin.

This new working paper looks at differences in management practices of New Zealand dairy farms and the mitigation of nitrogen leaching and greenhouse gas emissions. Research on this topic in New Zealand to date has relied on simulation modelling and has been limited by the fact that different farms have generally been treated as homogenous. In reality, farms vary greatly – looking at this heterogeneity gives a better idea of the potential for better environmental outcomes through more efficient farm management practices.

Using data on 264 New Zealand dairy farms, the paper estimates the extent to which farm management and farmer skill could potentially reduce farms’ greenhouse gas emissions and nitrogen leaching per unit of production. It suggests that significant feasible, relatively low-cost mitigation could be effected by less efficient farmers moving towards existing best practice, potentially reducing nitrogen leaching by more than 30 percent and greenhouse gas emissions by more than 15 percent. The potential for such mitigation varies considerably across farms.

Check out the new paper here.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

New OECD Report: Policy Instruments for Green Growth in Agriculture

Post written by H. Griffin.

An OECD Green Growth report on agricultural policy instruments was released on Monday. The report synthesises the experience of OECD countries in developing and implementing green growth policies in the agricultural sector. In addition to looking at experience in the areas of improved resource-use efficiency and decreased local environmental impact, the report explores policy potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A key conclusion of the report is that whilst a wide range of policies are being used throughout the OECD, the degree of ambition is extremely variable between countries.

Check out the full report here.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Effluent to Biofuel

Effluent processing plants that turn dairy cow effluent into biofuel could be the way of the future for New Zealand dairying.

Agribusiness manager Natasha King, winner of the Nuffield Farming Scholarship, has done research into whether gas and electricity can be generated from effluent. Whilst unable to reveal details about the proposed solution just yet, plans are underway to trial effluent processing on a 1000-cow farm in Canterbury.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Reframing the Policy Approach: Lessons from Niki Harré

Post written by H. Griffin.

Niki Harré’s Psychology for a Better World explores how we can create a society in which governments, organisations and individuals take pride in their efforts to protect the planet and each other. In the video below, Harré summarises the key messages of her book.

In a previous post, we looked at how individual environmental action can be motivated. Harré’s work is not only relevant to individuals, but also to policy-makers. The design and implementation of policy can have a huge impact on its effectiveness. Harré highlights the importance of positivity in encouraging creativity and cooperation. Positive emotions also play a vital role in facilitating behavioural change.

Framing the way agricultural greenhouse gas emissions are addressed in a more positive manner could be very beneficial. Approximately half of New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions relate to agriculture. The mitigation of these emissions is particularly challenging because current mitigation options are mostly associated with farm management practices and must be implemented by tens of thousands of farmers. There are currently no ‘silver bullet’ technologies that can be imposed or implemented by agricultural processing/distribution companies on behalf of farmers. Furthermore, incorporating agriculture into the ETS – which has been the focus of public debate – risks generating large wealth transfers. Because of this, it is crucial that communication of the issue is productive in facilitating positive action.

Political debate on the issue so far has been polarised, negative and unproductive. Harré shows us that reframing the policy conversation could potentially better equip New Zealand’s agricultural sector to face the challenges ahead.

As explored in this Motu note, New Zealand can play an important role in global climate change mitigation efforts as a policy leader. Positively reframing our policy debate domestically is an important step in enabling New Zealand to play this role.

 Instead of tales of terror, we need to be telling tales of joy. We also need to be designing policy that facilitates the acknowledgement of positive behaviour of farmers. Harré suggests that making positive behaviour more visible to other farmers could have multiplying effects as people tend to copy each other.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

100% Perception: DCDs and our International Image

Post written by Hannah Griffin

The recent food safety controversies involving Fonterra have highlighted the critically important interdependence between NZ’s exporters and our international brand. Further controversy surrounding DCD traces followed by a botulism scare were linked with river water quality in a wide ranging attack by the UK’s Daily Mail, alleging our ‘100% Pure’ slogan was “pure manure”. Whilst some have claimed the 100% Pure line should be taken with a grain of salt, export bans put in place by unaffected countries demonstrates the serious consequences of mishandled communications.

In the past month, bans and suspensions of Fonterra’s products have variously occurred in Russia, Sri Lanka and most recently Bangladesh. Particularly unsettling is Sri Lanka’s focus on DCD residues and Bangladesh’s related “nitrate in the milk powder” concerns.

Regardless of the (disputed) extent to which DCD residues have been detected, it is absolutely essential that we effectively communicate with our trading partners to avoid our brand being unnecessarily tarnished. Although DCD is non-toxic and presents no food-safety risk, many international markets have little to no tolerance of any level of chemical residue in their food - there is no international standard prescribing an acceptable level of DCD.

But why are we using DCD in the first place? DCD (technically ‘Dicyandiamide’) is one of the most promising technologies available for reducing the environmental impact of agriculture - it is the only product recognised under New Zealand’s National Agriculture Greenhouse Gas Inventory as a mitigation tool. This, and its additional effect of reducing the level of Nitrate leaching into our waterways, makes its usage very compelling, from an environmental perspective.

Approximately half of NZ’s emissions relate to agriculture and of these, 20% are related to livestock emissions from nitrous oxide and a further 6% from Nitrogen-heavy fertilisers. Motu and Landcare Research studies have shown that regulating nutrient run-off in water catchments or GHG emissions will generally lead to improvements in both; this is largely driven by changes in land use but also on-farm management decisions. Other, pre-experimental modelling under the Pastoral 21 programme has suggested it may be technically feasible to enact a 30% reduction in N leaching using current technologies even with a 20% increase in production. This suggests that significant nitrous oxide reductions may also be possible.

But do the economics stack up? Since agriculture is not included in the emissions trading scheme, farmers cannot use DCD to directly benefit from the reduction in CO2-e emissions. Positively though, DCD usage can in some circumstances boost pasture production by 5-10% but most studies suggest that its use will still come at a cost to profitability. DairyNZ work suggests that 20% reductions in leaching may be possible on dairy farms in Canterbury, while maintaining farm profitability.

Technological advances in agriculture represent a huge opportunity to increase the sustainability of our farming systems, without compromising food safety. It is essential that we pre-emptively address the potential concerns of our trade partners so as to enhance, rather than jeopardise our clean, green reputation.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Retracing the Footprints of our Livestock

Post written by H. Griffin

Carbon footprinting has become commonplace these days. Go online and you’ll find articles about the footprint of just about anything – your diet, your travel and even your pets. There are also various calculators available that can figure out the totality of your own personal footprint, if that’s what you so desire.
Footprinting is done for many agricultural products. It enables us to compare and contrast across different countries as well as among products.

AgResearch has put together various footprint studies on New Zealand produce, such as lamb and beef. These studies are important in strengthening our understanding of where emissions could be decreased along the supply chain.

But what actually goes into putting the numbers together?

AgResearch uses a “Life Cycle Assessment” approach, examining greenhouse gas emissions from production to consumption. At each stage of this chain, they assess each component that contributes to emissions. For example, in terms of on-farm beef emissions this means looking at natural processes of cattle consuming pasture as well as fertiliser, electricity and fuel use.

For beef, the total GHG footprint AgResearch calculated was 2.2kg CO2-equivalents for a 100g portion. Broken into segments, this equated to 90.3% for the on-farm stage, 2.1% for meat processing, 4.2% for transportation, and 3.3% for the consumption phase.

Their beef footprint study also outlines next steps for emissions improvements for the industry. Recommendations range from increasing productivity and tree-planting at the farm level to reducing the speed of shipping vessels.

On-farm emissions contribute by far the largest portion of the pie. Natural processes are the main source of these emissions and are the most challenging to mitigate. With the first petri dish grown beef burger eaten just over a week ago, there is a possibility that someday in the distant future we’ll be able to cut on-farm emissions altogether!

In the meantime we can work on minimising emissions where possible. This means taking the opportunities available in every phase from production to consumption. As consumption accounts for 3.3% of beef’s footprint, our behaviour can also play a role in minimising the footprint of what we consume. As consumers we can do things such as reducing food wastage in our homes.

We can also take responsibility for the footprint of our diet. As explored in a previous blog, a shift towards less red meat intensive diets could play a role in this.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

The Economics of Drought in New Zealand

Post written by H. Griffin.

The drought earlier this year was the worst New Zealand has seen in decades. Measures of soil moisture deficit were at their highest since the 1970s and a drought zone was declared over the entire North Island and parts of the South Island. With climate change the likelihood of more frequent and severe droughts is increasing. With this, so too is the need to better understand how the New Zealand economy reacts to such events.
The Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) has recently released a paper exploring the macroeconomic impact of droughts in New Zealand. It focuses on the direct impacts to the agricultural sector as well as the indirect flow-on effects to other parts of the economy.

Their models predict that the 2013 drought will lower economic growth by 0.4% in the second quarter. Annual GDP (the average across all four quarters) is predicted to be 0.3% lower than without the drought. Beyond this, they predict GDP will recover to normal over the following years.

The RBNZ paper highlights the complexity of economic reactions to climatic events. Their models show that drought in New Zealand is associated with higher world dairy prices. The models predicted that the drop in export volumes following the drought in 2013 would be initially followed by a rise in export prices. With this, the models suggest nominal GDP (GDP not adjusted for inflation) could rise following the 2013 drought. Such increases have the potential to offset some of the initial negative economic implications of a drought.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Food Security and Climate Change

A recent article in the Guardian highlights the increasing importance of food trade globally. Of the countries investigated in the study, 66 currently do not produce enough food to feed their people - roughly 16% of the global population. By 2050 the study predicts that over half of the world’s population will rely on imported food – making global food security more reliant on international trade. The predictions do not take into account the impact of climate change on food supply which could exacerbate the situation.

It is now thought that climate change is going to significantly impact our global food system by shifting where food is grown, in what seasons and in what quantities. Including these possibilities into the predictions of global food security is a necessity if we are to think ahead.

A new study in New Zealand is aiming to look into these issues for our own country. The CCII or Climate Change Impacts and Implications for New Zealand study led by NIWA and Landcare Research will explore the consequences of different climate trends for New Zealand so we can better prepare for these coming issues. The study will generate improved climate projections for New Zealand based on the latest global modelling and evaluate key pressures on and responses of five important environments (alpine, hill-country, lowlands, coastal and marine). The study will also explore feedbacks, cumulative impacts and limits at the national level from the interaction of climate, population, land-use change, economic development, and increase the relevance of climate change in decision making processes. The aim of this project focuses on extending New Zealand's foresight into the issues of climate change and how primary industries such as agriculture can respond to these challenges.

Another part of the equation of global food security is that New Zealand is currently a global food producer. If these predictions come to play and the world is significantly dependent on imported food - New Zealand may be a source of those food supplies for other countries. The increase in demand may offset the economic losses resulting from lowered agricultural production from extreme weather events. The potential negative and positive impacts of these shifts in agricultural production show how complex these issues are.

For more information, check out these condensed and interesting resources on what we know in New Zealand about the interactions between climate change and agriculture.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

New Motu Note: Tackling Agricultural Emissions - Potential Leadership from a Small Country

Post written by R. Cretney.

A new and exciting Motu note has been released by Suzi Kerr and Zack Dorner addressing the issues of tackling agricultural emissions in New Zealand.

This is one of the outcomes from the AgDialogue process which gathered together individuals from across New Zealand farming, policy and science sectors to discuss issues of climate change and agriculture. In this paper, Suzi and Zack detail the challenges and potential solutions to integrating agricultural emissions in an Emissions Trading Scheme that emerged as a result through this process. They also emphasize the important role a small nation, such as New Zealand, can play in the global community to reduce emissions from agriculture through collaboration and innovation.

Check out the new paper here and let us know your thoughts on New Zealand's role in the global community for reducing emissions in the comments section.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

The complexity of the diet and climate change debate

Post written by R. Cretney.

You are what you eat – or so the common saying goes. But as a global community are we what we eat? The issue of how our personal dietary choices effects social and environmental issues has long been a contentious issue. Considering the recent critique of  the undesirable impacts of quinoa’s popularity on poverty in Bolivia, it is understandable that many are left confused over what is the best choice, socially and environmentally. While the increase of organic, fair trade products has eased the social conscience of some, the issue of greenhouse gases, and in particular meat consumption, has proved a more tricky issue to deal with.

Some advocate that a world dominated by vegans and vegetarians is the only possible way to sustain the human population on a planet with finite resources. But what does the science say to support this?

Let us start with the issue of meat. As is quite well known, particularly in New Zealand, ruminant animals release Methane and Nitrous Oxide into the environment. These greenhouse gases (GHGs) contribute to our emissions profile as a country and as individuals. But is the complete elimination of meat and dairy products from our diets necessary?

A paper by Jennie MacDiarmid and others released in 2012 suggests otherwise. In this paper, the authors look at the optimum diet that maintains ideal standards of nutrition while maximising the possible GHG reductions in the United Kingdom. Food such as most vegetables, fruits and grains were considered low greenhouse gas emitters, certain fruits and vegetables, eggs, chicken, dairy products, nuts and sweet foods were considered moderate greenhouse gas emitters while red meat, turkey, cheese, pork and fish were considered high greenhouse gas emitters.

This backs up what many have argued, that red meat contributes significantly to our carbon footprints. But the issue is far from clear cut – the MacDiarmid (2012) article suggests that actually the most nutritious yet low GHG diet includes red meat but in smaller quantities than is currently consumed. Another recently released study by Darmon and others in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition also suggested that moderation was key. This research studied the entire life cycle of the food and took into account all GHGs produced except those resulting from transport from the store to the home. The authors found that overall the emissions for meat products were 15 times that of fruit and vegetables. However, when taking into account the amount of energy in kilocalories that the food provided, meat products only emitted 3 times the GHGs as a comparable amount of energy derived from fruit and vegetables.

Darmon’s paper has been criticised by some proponents of vegetarianism who pointed out that most vegetarians do not eat the large quantity of vegetables that were used to compare emissions to a small portion of meat. Instead they argue that because they eat less vegetables than the nine pounds used, their carbon footprint is lower than the study suggests. Regardless, Darmon’s research is still useful, especially in combination with the MacDiarmid paper as both studies look into the increasingly grey area of the impact of our food choices on climate change.  

Here are some New Zealand figures that compare the GHG per kilogram of meat or milk solids as food for thought. The studies referred to before deal largely with European food production systems. As Saunders and MacDonald (2011) note, several types of meat production in New Zealand, such as lamb, are produced with much less emissions than those produced in Europe. This information shows that unlike the MacDiarmid study, New Zealand poultry and pork are actually low emitters (as opposed to moderate emitters in Europe) while sources of red meat are still high emitters. To put this data in context, a flight from Wellington to Auckland would release approximately 67.1kg of Co2 per passenger. The source of this data is the latest New Zealand legislation for emissions trading and the Air New Zealand carbon calculator.

Type of food
Kilograms of Co2 e/per kg at slaughter
(See Climate Change (Agricultural Sector) Amendment Regulations 2012 Legislation)
Sheep, Beef and Goat
Milk solids

While we may not be able to expect the entire world to become strict vegetarians, in the long run, a shift towards less red meat intensive diets could encourage a reduction in GHG emissions while acknowledging the importance of consuming meat for many economies and cultures. In the meantime there are less GHG intensive farming options to explore such as the adoption of more efficient farm management techniques. These options can be explored by farmers in New Zealand who will be able to market their products to those wishing to remain meat eaters while watching their carbon footprint (Clark et al 2011).

 Articles cited:

Clark, H.; F. M. Kelliher and C Pinares-Patino. 2011. "Reducing CH4 Emissions From Grazing Ruminants in New Zealand: Challenges and Opportunities", Asian-Australian Journal of Animal Science, 24:2, pp. 295-302.
Vieux, F., Darmon, N., Touazi, D., & Soler, L. G. (2012). Greenhouse gas emissions of self-selected individual diets in France: Changing the diet structure or consuming less?. Ecological Economics75, 91-101.
Macdiarmid, J. I., Kyle, J., Horgan, G. W., Loe, J., Fyfe, C., Johnstone, A., & McNeill, G. (2012). Sustainable diets for the future: can we contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by eating a healthy diet?. The American journal of clinical nutrition96(3), 632-639. 
Saunders, C., McDonald, H., Driver, T. 2011. “Enhancing Value for New Zealand Farmers by
                        Improving the Value Chain”, Agribusiness and Economics Research Unit Report No. 324.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Positive Environmentalism - the role of fun and games

"Consultant Paula Owen hopes the 12-month study will encourage people to change their behaviour and reduce their environmental impacts. She said that people did not engage with 'doom and gloom' messages, leaving them feeling powerless."

One recent article by the BBC has highlighted the role of positive thinking and games in encouraging pro-environment behaviour. These games are targeted at people who have not been involved with environmental issues before. Researchers found anecdotal evidence that through engaging with the games in a positive way environmental education and awareness was improved, now they working on quantifying this evidence.

The games in this research are similar to the environmental games that were used in the AgDialogue meetings. These games were created by Motu to facilitate understanding of emissions and water trading schemes. Players of the game 'run' a dairy or sheep/beef farm (water quality) or a smelter or power plant (emissions). Changes to regulations are introduced in the game and players have to respond by altering the operation of their farms/facilities. You can find more information on these games here.

The reasoning behind using games to increase environmental awareness is also being re-enforced by a new area of psychology that looks into the psychology of sustainability. Niki Harré’s recent book "Psychology for a Better World" highlights this research and discusses the importance of positive emotions in driving shifts in behaviour. Her work is more related to personal behavioural actions but it is easy to see how her work supports the importance of the fun and playful ways of learning about environmental issues. Below is a quick introduction to her book and short film.

Post written by R. Cretney.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

What does wine, coffee and chocolate have to do with climate change?

Post written by R. Cretney.

Recent news articles have been taking a popular angle in raising awareness of the effects of climate change on agriculture and food production.

Research released today, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the United States shows that Californian, Chilean and Mediterranean grape producing regions will be hit hard by shifts in growing conditions due to climate change

 Other recent research has shown that other popular food items such as coffee, honey and chocolate are at risk from increasing severe weather events, pests and diseases as a result of a shifting climate. Even Starbucks acknowledged the risk of climate change in 2011 and began lobbying the Obama administration to work on the issue.

 But the news is not all bad for New Zealand. The climactic changes may make it easier to grow grapes here. The author's model shows land suitable for grape growing increasing by 168%. This could provide a new industry for agricultural production that is negatively affected by other shifts in the climate and may increase our already strong brand as a wine producing nation.

 For other industries though the authors recommend using increasingly creative farming techniques and less water intensive means of production. So who knows about the future of coffee and chocolate, but at least the future of global wine production shows promise for New Zealand. Next week we are going to have a look at how your personal food choices can affect the global climate but investigating different dietary choices.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Nitrogen Bomb - Mike Barton on Country Calendar

Post written by R. Cretney

Mike Barton from AgDialogue has just been featured on New Zealand's Country Calendar show. The show aired on the 30th of March and can be seen from the TVNZ Ondemand website.

Mike and Sharon Barton's branded beef products have been launched in response to the Waikato District Council placing a cap on the amount of nitrogen able to be released into Lake Taupo.  As a result the Bartons cannot increase their production as they would have previously - this led them to look for other ways to raise a similar income from fewer animals, and so Taupo Beef was born. By creating their own brand the Bartons have assured customers that the beef they are eating is from a local farm that isn't damaging the lake.

As this branding adds value to the product, the meat sold by Taupo Beef goes for a premium. The Barton's creativity has allowed them to maintain the profitability of their farm while keeping it within environmental limits. This is an exciting area for New Zealand agriculture with many opportunities both nationally and abroad.

To see the full story watch the Country Calendar show here.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Carbon Farming Group - new biological farming video.

Post written by R. Cretney

A new video released by the Carbon Farming Group demonstrates the case study of one farm in the Golden Bay area that is successfully applying biological farming principles.

Late last year Motu Research Analyst Zack Dorner compiled a comprehensive post on the arguments for and against biological farming as a method for increasing stores of soil carbon. The evidence put forward by scientists in this area shows that the evidence for biological farming is currently less than conclusive. Troy Baisden, who is mentioned in Zack's post, says that while the evidence is not currently strong in favor of the techniques, they are probably not harmful to soil carbon levels.

However this does not mean biological farming has no benefits for farmers. This latest video from the Carbon Farming Group details some of the other benefits that farmers using this technique might benefit from, including adaptation to different climates. Mark Manson, who narrates the video, discusses the benefits to his family farm. While reducing stocking rates he has maintained and improved the milk production of his farm through changes to the management of stock feed and soil conditions.

One of the features of his farm is that it is significantly comprised of land that is particularly dry– especially during the summer months. In past years this has led to Mark having to sell stock when feed supplies became low. Now however, through focusing on improving the base saturation of the soil (a focus on soil pH, magnesium, sodium and potassium), the soil is more resilient to climatic changes, more biologically diverse and experiences less compaction. Combined with a diversification of grass types this means that Mark can successfully run the same stock numbers throughout the year, even in dry conditions.

You can read more about biological farming from the Carbon Farming Group here.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Droughts cause pain for farmers and government

Post written by R. Cretney.

While it is now raining in some parts of the country - widespread declaration of drought has been one of the top news stories last week. The regions of Northland, South Auckland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Coromandel and Hawke's Bay were first to be announced as drought zones. The government soon followed by declaring the whole North Island a drought zone this week. 

Some media stories are even declaring this the worst drought to ever strike New Zealand. This drought follows similar events in 2007, 2008 and 2010 indicating support for NIWA's prediction of more frequent and severe droughts in the next 30 years.

This image shows the soil moisture deficit as of 6th March 2013 compared to the same time in 2012 and the historical average deficit.

These events have severe impacts on farmers leading to reduced milk production, increased requirement for supplementary feed leading to increased expenses and financial losses.

Such an event also shows the potential effect of climate change on rural livelihoods and the national economy. Bill English recently said that farmers need to adapt to these changes as it is not sustainable for the government to continue provide financial assistance to farmers.

Such pressure from the weather and government may influence farmers to change their practices leading to changes in land-use patterns. This will be explored in a new research programme led by NIWA and Landcare Research

However, the long-term forecast is not necessarily bad for farmers, as one Motu paper by Stroombergen covered. This paper explores the potential effects of long-term climatic influence on NZ agriculture - including the impacts on the value of commodities we sell and the chance that increased CO2 will lead to higher production of some crops. Overall he assesses that the overall economic benefits may outweigh the losses from changes in average temperature and precipitation; he is however unable to assess the impact of extreme events such as droughts which may be where the real climate costs for agriculture bite.

Post written by R. Cretney.

Behind the Brands

Post written by R. Cretney.

Oxfam has just released several pieces of interesting research into food and agriculture. One is a report on sustainable development in the Pacific which highlights the important role of agricultural projects - including providing access to high value international markets (Report available here). The other piece of research has resulted in an in-depth campaign aimed at getting us to think more about where our food comes from and how it's produced.

Consumers are increasingly voting with their wallets and choosing to buy products that align with their values. A recent study on organic agriculture found that the industry showed significant growth and is now considered "mainstream" in some centers, despite overall higher prices than conventionally grown food.

What does this mean for New Zealand agriculture?

Well, it provides an opportunity and a threat. Some consumers are willing to pay more for higher quality and more ethical produce. Domestically and internationally this could prove a growing selling point for New Zealand products.

The Oxfam campaign shows a growing move to highlight weaknesses or issues with some companies. This begs the question, how would our own companies stand up to such assessment?

Oxfam uses the criteria of 

  1. Transparency at a corporate level
  1. Women farm workers and small-scale producers in the supply chain
  1. Workers on farms in the supply chain
  1. Farmers (small scale) growing the commodities
  1. Land, both rights and access to land and sustainable use of it
  1. Water, both rights and access to water resources and sustainable use of it
  1. Climate, both relating to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and helping farmers adapt to climate change.

We might score very well on some of these counts - but others may need further work. One way that this debate is being played out in relation to New Zealand is through the current criticism of Tourism NZ’s 100% pure brand. One man is even taking the country’s advertising slogan to the Advertising Standards Authority to protest at the inaccuracy of the statement.

Recent research, by Woods and Coleman, could not find statistical evidence that New Zealand producers can influence their market power or move towards higher value markets in response to changing commodity prices. However, some NZ producers may be receiving a premium locally for niche sustainability products. Mike Barton from Taupo Beef who participated in AgDialogue has benefited from marketing his beef products as sustainably reared on the shores of Lake Taupo. Such a scheme is similar to the Irish "Origin Green" label mentioned in a previous post here. Farmers engaged in these practices show real potential for protecting and strengthening "Brand NZ". 

Proactive banking

Post written by R. Cretney.

Some positive news this week from ASB Bank. ASB has just released its first proactive banking scheme that aims to achieve the right balance between productivity and sustainability.

Proactive banking was one of the prototype ideas that arose from Agdialogue. The concept is targeted at farmers who want to invest in reducing their environmental footprint and increasing their sustainability. This is achieved in the ASB scheme by providing a low cost loan that is competitively priced at ASB's cost of funding with no extra customer margins applied.

Mark Heer, ASB General Manager Rural says in the article that "farmers consistently tell us that they are doing their best to ensure that their farms are operating to the highest environmental standards...In offering this new loan, ASB wants to be part of the solution by providing farmers with a low cost funding option to get their farm to where it needs to be".

This is great news for farmers and the environment!

The ASB article can be found here.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

The good, the bad and the ugly: how do different greenhouse gases compare?

Which greenhouse gas contributes the most to global warming? The bad news, for those who want a simple answer, is that it really depends on how you define the question. 

One oft-quoted statistic is that three quarters of the world's greenhouse gas emissions are made up of carbon dioxide. Another is that in New Zealand almost half our greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture. And these emissions aren't carbon dioxide - rather, roughly 2/3 are methane and 1/3 are nitrous oxide. 

But what do these figures mean? Does agriculture produce roughly one out of every two kilograms of gas we emit? Or is agriculture ultimately responsible for roughly half our contribution to global warming? 

Somewhat mysteriously, the answer is – neither. There are three important variables to keep in mind when comparing carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. The first is the quantity in kilograms of gas emitted - more gas causes more warming. The second is how long gas molecules linger in the atmosphere - and this varies significantly across types of gas. The third is how much energy a kilogram of each type of gas traps in the atmosphere per unit time.

The statistics referred to above don't tell us about the number of kilograms of each gas emitted, nor about the total amount of energy that each type of gas will trap in the atmosphere in the long run. Rather, they are calculated by taking the number of kilograms of each gas that we emit, and multiplying it by a "global warming potential" (GWP). A GWP is the amount of energy that one kilogram of that gas traps in the atmosphere over a 100 year period relative to carbon dioxide. For instance methane's GWP is more than 20, which means that in the 100 years after a kilogram of methane is emitted, it will trap over 20 times as much energy in the earth's atmosphere as one kilogram of carbon dioxide will.

The thing about GWPs is that they only look 100 years into the future. If we care only about the short term, then GWP - or an even shorter term measure - might be the best to use. But if we want to consider the impact of gases more than a hundred years forward, then we might think that GWP over- or understates the effect a gas has on warming. How far ahead should we look? The question remains open for debate.
In this video, Dave Frame from the Victoria University of Wellington Climate Change Institute discusses these differences between the three types of gas. The results might be surprising! Note that Dave’s comparisons are per-kilogram, and don’t necessarily reflect the aggregate contribution to global warming of each gas.