Covering Climate Now: Katikati farmer embracing challenge to reduce carbon emissions

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

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Nearly half of New Zealand’s total greenhouse emissions come from agriculture. Source: 1 NEWS

Take a tour of Rick Burke's Katikati farm and you'll see rejuvenation.

“By doing this we've brought all this biodiversity back into the area.”

Over 20 years the sheep and beef grazier has planted more than 100 hectares of pine and native forest and restored unproductive paddocks to wetland.

But not without help from his regional council and grants from industry body Beef and Lamb NZ.

“They subsidised a lot of the work we did so got us started, otherwise it would have been virtually impossible,” he says. 

Jeremy Baker from Beef and Lamb NZ says the organisation is committed to doing its part on climate change and working alongside farmers to help reduce emissions.

The industry has reduced its sheep numbers by over 40 million.

“We're investing millions of dollars alongside the Government in other parts of the sector trying to understand how we can reduce absolute emissions so things like a vaccine or an additive to feed that can reduce methane emissions," he said. 

“We have 1.4 million hectares of native bush for sequestering carbon right now. We think we're probably already easily over 50 per cent of our emissions covered and we're on the journey to recover them all by 2050.

Mr Burke’s forests on his farm could make him carbon neutral in four years time.

Source: 1 NEWS

“We shouldn't be pushing back, we should be embracing this because it’s our future that's at stake here.”

Of all New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions, 48.1 per cent come from agriculture.

The majority, 35.2 per cent from methane gas from livestock.

Dairy cattle contribute 18.3 per cent of those emissions.

Dr Harry Clarke, the Director of the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre, says in global terms we are not large emitters but for our population it is a concern.

“There is no other country like us in the developed world.”

The Government's Zero Carbon Bill would legally require methane to be reduced by 10 per cent in 10 years and by 2050 lowered by at least another 14 per cent.

But large farming groups like Dairy NZ and Federated Farmers say those targets are not feasible and with limited tools in the toolbox are setting farmers and their communities up to take a substantial financial hit.

Climate Change Minister James Shaw says they are selling their farmers short.

“I think that they are selling their side down, I think it is really letting farmers down to say they are somehow powerless that they are not innovative,” he says. 

But farmers want their own scheme, where each farm is charged separately for its emissions, and the funds are put back into the sector.

Rick Burke says it’s doable.

“But we have to put it in the context of - all our landscapes are different and we've got to design something that is fair and equitable for everyone.”

James Shaw says they are looking at that option.

The Carbon Zero bill has its second reading later this year.

But Rick Burke's not waiting around.

“When people start to do this, it becomes infectious they really love improving the environment,” he says. 

This story is part of a week of special coverage of climate change from 1 NEWS. Stories in the series include a look at flooding, the situation in farming and ocean temperature rises.