Posts Tagged ‘Agriculture’

Export Subsidies

January 18, 2009

Like many I am perturbed by the EU decision to resume export subsidies for agricultural products.  This policy has in the past been extremely damaging to New Zealand exports and those of many developing countries also.  The prohibition of these subsidies should be our #1 goal for the current WTO negotiations.

Why I Think The Kyoto Rules Treat New Zealand Sheep, Beef And Dairy Farmers Unfairly

December 27, 2008

At least one reader of Kiwiblog appears not to have understood the point I was trying to make about the rules around methane production so I will try and explain myself more clearly.  Yes, I know methane is a potent GHG and that it is probably one of the worst GHGs because of its half life being so long.  I also know that the carbon atoms in methane molecules that are produced in the gut of a ruminant come from carbon stored in the grass not from the atmosphere (I actually thought that was pretty clear from my post).

The point I was trying to make was that farmers are being penalised for the amount of methane produced without adjusting for the fact that to produce the methane their pasture has absorbed close to an equal amount of carbon.  I really only know wine making chemistry so can’t comment definitively about the relative bulk of a tonne of methane as compared to a tonne of carbon dioxide but I can tell you that a molecule of CO2 has as much carbon as a molecule of CH4.  Each contains one atom of carbon.  My guess is that it is almost a one to one conversion.  If one looks at the latest edition of the Ministry of Economic Development’s publication New Zealand Energy Green House Gas Emissions you can see that in one of the tables  (1.1) all gases are converted to CO2 equivalent.  Agriculture produced 37,668 Kilotonnesof CO2 equivalent.  This is made up of 24,866 kt of methane and 12,802 kt of nitrous oxide N2O.   

From the above we know that to produce the 24,866 kt of methane (CO2 equivalent) New Zealand farmers have had to absorb roughly 24,866 kt of CO2.  Why do the rules not give credit for this?  I have seen some argue that it is impossible at this time to tell how much CO2 is absorbed by a New Zealand farm.  This may be true, but a chemist can tell you exactly how much CO2 must have been absorbed by pasture to produce the methane which the Government says it knows each farm is producing.  I think it is unfair that our farmers are not being given credit for this CO2 absorption.

Some Questions On The Science Of Kyoto

December 26, 2008

This post is not a challenge to those who believe that the climate is changing due to the release of greenhouse gasses (GHGs) by humankind.

It is asking questions about the science that underpins the Kyoto Protocol and and which is being used to determine our level of emissions. 

 Several aspects of the Kyoto Protocol really annoy me.  For a start how can we solve this problem if major emitting economies have not taken on any obligations?  It looks as though the US will take on commitments to whatever replaces Kyoto but there seems no chance off China, India and Brazil etc taking on commitments.

Why is there such inconsistency over points of obligation?  Why are consumers held responsible to the release of GHGs from oil, gas and coal and not the producing countries, when the country that cuts down a tree is held responsible for emitting the full amount of carbon stored in that tree from the time that it is cut down?  An importing country faces the full liability for emissions from gas, oil and coal, but exporting country faces the full liability for wood.  And why does the exporting country face the full liability for its agricultural emissions as opposed to the country that is going to actually consume the product that was produced as a result of all those emissions having been made?  So New Zealand imports oil from country x and bears the full costs of releasing the GHGs from burning that oil in New Zealand.  We export meat to country x, but also face the full cost of producing all the GHGs released while producing this meat.

Why was horticulture excluded from the original emissions trading scheme?  We store plenty of carbon in horticulture.  Our systems are essentially closed – in wine for example we absorb in the grape growing process exactly as much CO2 as we put back into the atmosphere in the wine making process.  Our vines store more cabon each year, and those of us growing things organically, are constantly boosting our carbon levels in our soil.  We get no credit for this under the previous Government’s scheme but we face full costs on all our inputs.

And have we got the science right over methane production from our cows and sheep?  This is a critical issue for New Zealand as our agricultural emissons are half our total emissions.

Where does methane come from? It comes from the guts of cows and sheep.  It is is produced in the guts of ruminant livestock as a result of the actions of methanogenic bacteria and protozoa on the feed being eaten by the ruminant livestock.  In New Zealand’s case that food is mostly grass.

Now this is where I am hoping to be corrected, but my reading of the Kyoto Protocol gas calculation rules suggests that the methane emitted is being measured (estimated based on stock numbers) in gross terms.  But no counterbalancing adjustment is being made for the fact that the components that make the methane were largely absorbed from atmosphere as carbon (methane – CH4 – is one atom of carbon and four of hydrogen).

No where can I find a measure of the amount of carbon dioxide absorbed by our pasture in New Zealand.  While pasture doesn’t store carbon well (grasses tend to die and then release carbon back into the atmosphere relatively quickly – unlike trees that live many years) pasture absorbs as much carbon as does forest.  If is wasn’t for the interaction of animals, pasture would be a fully closed system in terms of CO2.  As much carbon as is absorbed would be released again once the grass dies.  The animals convert the carbon that has been absorbed by grass into all kinds of things.  Out one end comes the methane that everone is so exercised about.  The other end is even more disgusting but those droppings do add carbon back into the soil where it is stored.  And of course the meat and wool produced gets eaten or consumed into clothing.  The carbon will get released back into the atmosphere one day, but is maay take many years.

But in terms of carbon and GHGs isn’t this as much a closed system as pasture without the animals?  The grass absorbs the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.  It gets eaten and that carbon gets combined with some hydrogen in the gut thanks to some microbe induced anaerobic frementaion and methane gets released into the atmosphere.  So as a result there is less CO2 in the atmosphere but more methane than there would otherwise be. But they are both GHGs.  Why therefore do our farmers not get pinged for producing methane when in fact without the methane there would still be CO2 being released into the atmosphere?  And why are they being pinged at all for being part of what is essentially a closed system?  No more GHGs are being put up into the atmosphere than are being absorbed by the pasture.

Looking at the way things are measured here in New Zealand the amount of CO2 being emitted and absorbed by agriculture is treated as a neutral exercise – data is deemed to be not available.  If it was, would it confirm or refute the case I make above?  But even without this data how can determine a farmer’s liability?

Finally, as mentioned above in relation both to pastural agriculture and viticulture, I think that there is an issue over the measurement of, and need for account to be taken of the amount of carbon being absorbed in our soils.  I have seen plenty of scientists getting excited over the prospects for using biochar to store carbon in soils, but what about what is already going on?  Without taking acount of what is already taking place how can we get a true picture of the amount of GHGs we are actually producing from our agriculture sector?

Greens Speaking Rubbish

December 2, 2008

There is no threat to our agricultural exports from New Zealand Government attempts to negotiate sensible rules for the handling of agricultural emissions at the UN climate change negotiations this month.  One of the great myths that was put around in the last year of so is that if we don’t lead the world and have a scheme that applies to all sectors and all gases we will be threatening our agricultural exports.  We know for a fact that this is not the case.  Indeed some European Governments were arguing against us applying our scheme to agriculture on the grounds that this was too ambitious.  All that Europe was wanting was for New Zealand to have a scheme similar to Europe’s.  Europes scheme does not apply to the agriculture sector.  We also know that the rules that were negotiated for the Kyoto Protocol were far from perfect.  It is to be expected that countries will try and improve these rules.  The previous Government was very active in this space also – on land use and forestry in particular.

We shall be reading the briefing to the incoming Government very closely on this issue to see whether it indeed says what Dr Norman says it does (how would he know?).   If it does say this then we have a problem with the authors who are misleading their Ministers.