Chief executive Tim Mackle says nothing can be fed or applied to an animal in New Zealand without having certain approvals for their importation and use, an example being medicines and treatments needing to be authorised under the Agricultural Compounds and Veterinary Medicines Act.
Bearing in mind the work currently being done to create new technologies to help farmers cut on-farm emissions, Mackle says the Government needs to look now at what regulations or Acts will have to be met before the new technologies arrive.
“Because of the urgency of needing to help our farmers have technology in their hands to knock down methane, we need to do everything we can from a government point of view to expedite the whole thing, to speed things up,” Mackle said.
“There should be no excuse for us not to run those processes as quickly as we can.
“That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t run, because you can’t just throw anything out there, but at the same time we should have it running like a well-oiled machine.”
He draws a parallel with covid vaccines, saying internationally there has been a massive amount of time, effort and money put into developing them, and for many countries they had to get through regulatory systems quickly.
“It’s no different to that,” he said.
“If the urgency’s there, and the latest (IPCC) report has said it is, then we should do everything we can to expedite that.
“We’re calling on the Government to get those pathways and processes sorted out now so we’re not coming from a standing start. So we can get things moving as soon as something arrives and is ready.”
At the same time, Mackle says because food safety is one of the most critical values of NZ food to customers around the world, that’s also got to be paramount.
“We’ve got to make sure we’ve got that system really well-geared up to not only do it as quickly and effectively as we can, but to make sure that it’s robust.”
He says a lot has changed with R&D aimed at addressing pastoral greenhouse gases since work began on it.
In the early days there was a discovery phase but now sectors are at the sharp end of getting tools into the hands of farmers, although there is still work to be done to make that a reality.
“We’re at a different phase now, we’re not at discovery, we’re into commercialisation and implementation and working these things into the farm system itself,” he said.
He says DairyNZ is currently running trials looking at a variety of technologies but it needs to be able to look at the process as a value chain and ask: ‘“what are all the parts that need to be sorted in order to ultimately get these in the hands of farmers as quickly as we can?”
“Because that’s the endgame. The goal is getting cost-effective technologies that have jumped through all the hoops and satisfied all the key issues into the hands of farmers,” he said.
He says from a global perspective there is a lot of work going on targeted at reducing biological emissions, which is positive, but most are focused on feed additives or a slow release approach that does not easily translate to NZ’s farming systems.
“Being pasture-based extensive systems we’ve got to have our own focus, particularly for implementation, the application of the technology.
“There’s so many benefits when it comes to free-range pasture-based systems, but one of the challenges we face is how do you apply this methane knockdown technology?”
Dairy farming has long been targeted by some parts of NZ society as not doing enough to curb its emissions, but Mackle says he has recently seen a change in some of those perceptions.
“In the last few months the general narrative around our challenge has shifted to be more balanced and the Climate Change Commission has helped with that because they said ‘hey, if we don’t (address) CO2, we’re all down the gurgler’,” he said.
“If I stand back and look at the data and stats (around media coverage), which we do, there has been a shift to a greater acknowledgment that it’s no longer all about ag.
Having said that, he says there is one thing that still does concern him.
Mackle says some of those who advocate a move away from livestock exaggerate the impact of reducing NZ’s agricultural methane emissions on global outcomes and a time-poor NZ general public who is also focused on covid-19 can read too much into soundbites that are not necessarily accurate.
He says the agricultural sector needs to get its own message across.
“This is about us making a contribution to a global effort. But, and this is not a reason for doing nothing, we’re not going to solve this issue by ourselves. You’re not going to stop sea level rise at Takapuna Beach from the 10% methane cut that we’re looking to do by 2030,” he said.
“That does not mean that reducing our methane (emissions) is unimportant because it is part of a collective global effort and it’s also what our customers and their consumers are demanding from us.”