Agricultural sector seeking to cut greenhouse footprint

Agriculture fourth on the Victorian greenhouse gas emissions league table


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METHANE CAPTURE: Victorian Farmers Federation Pig Group president Tim Kingma says the industry is seeking ways of reducing greenhouse gases.

METHANE CAPTURE: Victorian Farmers Federation Pig Group president Tim Kingma says the industry is seeking ways of reducing greenhouse gases.

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Plans are well underway to reduce agriculture's greenhouse footprint

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Victorian farm sector representatives say primary producers are continually seeking to reduce greenhouse gases, following revelations agriculture contributed 12 per cent of the state's net emissions in 2016.

Agriculture held the fourth largest share of total emissions behind electricity generation, transport and direct combustion.

"Agriculture sector emissions arise from livestock digestion (enteric fermentation), manure management, the release of nitrous oxide from cropping and pasture land, and the burning of agricultural residues," the report found.

"Manure management produces emissions through the anaerobic decomposition of the organic matter contained in manure, especially when a considerable number of animals are confined, e.g. piggeries."

The figures were contained in a Department of Environment, Land Water and Planning Victorian Greenhouse Gas Emissions report, showing emission levels were projected to continue to rise until 2020 at the least.

Electricity generation accounted for 52pc of Victoria's emissions, transport 19.5pc, and direct combustion 16.2pc.

The report found in 2015-16 there were 20,532 farms in Victoria or nearly a quarter of all Australia's farm businesses. Enteric fermentation of plant material, digested by animals, resulted in nearly 70 per cent of agricultural emissions.

But the report found agricultural emissions were declining.

Emissions from sheep grazing fell by 56pc, between 1990 and 2016, while greenhouse gases from beef cattle were only slightly higher at the end of that period.

Methane capture

Australian Pork Limited environment manager Denise Woods said reducing greenhouse gas emissions in pork production was a major priority, for the industry.

There are at least two methane capture projects, operating on Victorian piggeries.

"We are continually working with researchers and producers to enhance opportunities for methane capture," Ms Woods said.

"The analysis showed that since 1980, greenhouse gas emissions have decreased by 69pc, from 10.6 to 3.3 (CO2-e) per kg live weight".

The Victorian Farmers Federations Pig Group President Tim Kingma said many farmers were using solar power and he knew of work being carried out on methane capture, from effluent dams.

"Once you capture that methane, you have generated power and heat, that can go back into the farm," Mr Kingma said.

He said once the industry recovered from the current slump, due to the high cost of production, farmers could turn back to making a profit.

"I think a lot of more farms will start doing it," he said.

"We are going to put one in, once we can get through this.

"But it's always a lot easier when you are starting from ground zero.

'When you retrofit, it is so much more expensive."

Sustainable dairy

Dairy Australia's Manager - Sustainability Helen Dornom said while the industry had navigated difficult market and environmental conditions, in recent years, farmers were setting their sights on a sustainable future, linked to both the Paris Agreement and UN 2020 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

"The Australian Dairy Industry Sustainability Framework outlines the industry's commitment to improving wellbeing and livelihood of dairy communities, the health and nutrition of Australians, the welfare of animals and reducing environmental impacts," Dr Dornom said.

"The Australian Dairy Industry Sustainability Framework outlines the industry's commitment to improving wellbeing and livelihood of dairy communities, the health and nutrition of Australians, welfare of animals and reducing environmental impacts," Dr Dornom said.

The industry was seeking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30pc, on 2015 levels, by 2020 and farmers and processors had been making real progress toward sustainable production.

She said more than 80 per cent of farmers were safeguarding some of their land for conservation and biodiversity, up from 45pc in 2015.

"Specifically, 'Land, Water, Carbon' is DA's strategic program supporting the industry goal to cut farm greenhouse gas emissions.

"Its scope is to build industry capability at the farm level to manage land, water and energy resources to minimise environmental impact while enhancing profit and improving industry capacity to mitigate climate risk.

"Investment areas include increasing understanding of nitrogen use efficiency and supporting enteric methane technologies."

She said more than 80 per cent of farmers were safeguarding some of their land for conservation and biodiversity, up from 45pc in 2015.

"Specifically, 'Land, Water, Carbon' is DA's strategic program supporting the industry goal to cut farm greenhouse gas emissions.

"Its scope is to build industry capability at the farm level to manage land, water and energy resources to minimise environmental impact while enhancing profit and improving industry capacity to mitigate climate risk.

"Investment areas include increasing understanding of nitrogen use efficiency and supporting enteric methane technologies."

Fertiliser's contribution

The report found another activity contributing significantly to agriculture emissions, 20pc was the release of nitrous oxide through the application of fertilisers.

As a warming greenhouse gas, nitrous oxide is nearly 300 times more damaging than carbon dioxide.

Victorian Farmers Federation Grains Group president Ashley Fraser said there had been a reliance on fertilisers, within cropping strategies.

"Having said that, we have done a lot of work, over the years

"We have done a lot of work with minimal till and no-till to get the reliance on those fertilisers down," Mr Fraser said.

He said improvements in seed genetics and higher efficiency of nitrogen had also helped reduce greenhouse gases.

"With precision placement, rather than broadcasting, we are putting the right amount of fertiliser, exactly where it's needed.

"Certainly, we are custodians, and we want to leave our soils and farms, in particular, in better shape for the next generation, coming through."

A DELWP spokesman said projected emissions were obtained from Victorian data, provided by Commonwealth Department of the Environment and Energy, using a bottom-up model developed and maintained by DoEE.

"Projections are based on the projected level of agricultural activity in each year estimated by drawing on external data sources that contain activity levels and growth rates," the spokesman said.

"Where projected activity data was not available for particular commodities, an appropriate proxy such as production, quantity of end product, or a relevant driver such as growth in another connected commodity, as informed by historical comparisons, was used."

DoEE prepared sectoral projections consistent with international guidelines and provided data disaggregated at the state level.

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