“It’s a beast,” says Tokoroa dairy farmer George Moss.  

He’s not talking about one of his cows – he’s talking about the job of understanding, counting and cutting greenhouse gas emissions from the farm he runs with his wife Sharon. 

New Zealand will be the first country in the world to price emissions at the farmgate, if the agriculture sector’s plan – He Waka Eke Noa – is agreed to by the Government.  

It’ll mean farmers won’t be part of the broader emissions trading scheme, but will have their own system to meet the goal of cutting emissions in the agriculture sector by 10 percent by 2030 and up to 40 percent by 2050. 

George Moss is a climate change ambassador for the industry body DairyNZ. He’s done courses on greenhouse gases and environmental planning, and he started working on cutting emissions on his farm several years ago. He says he’s still grappling with the “beast”. 

The Detail takes a tour of the farm to find out how the Mosses have built up a herd that’s now 10 percent more efficient than the average farm in terms of production, while emitting less methane. He describes it as a strategy of chasing the most efficient cows, mainly through genetics. 

Moss describes how he taps into different systems to work out his greenhouse gases, including the widely-used subscription-based Overseer software tool. 

That crunches all the farm data from the feed and fertiliser he brings in, to the number of livestock going on and off the farm, to milk production. 

“It gives a best estimation of what your impact is.” 

But don’t ask him to put a hard number on just what those emissions numbers are – there just isn’t the technology to accurately measure it.  

The Mosses have about 190 hectares of land comprising two 70-hectare dairy units and a 40-hectare drystock unit, with beef cattle and dairy replacement heifers. They lease a further seven hectares to a forestry nursery. 

As a climate change ambassador, George Moss liaises between the farmers and the policy makers, helping central government understand the farmer’s perspective and helping farmers understand the changes that are coming and how they can adapt.  

Moss says more than 90 percent of dairy farmers have their greenhouse gas data, but the challenge for many is understanding it so they can work on reducing emissions while ensuring they still have a viable operation. 

“Out there is a group of farmers really embracing this space and really building their knowledge. There’s a group of farmers – probably the minority – who are vocal at the other end, who are saying we shouldn’t do anything and this is not fair and somebody else should tackle the problem. 

“Then there’s a large bulk of farmers in the middle who do not know what their numbers are telling them and are looking for guidance as to how they pull a plan together. He Waka Eke Noa is going to focus their minds pretty quickly.” 

Twenty years ago, Moss thought human-induced climate change was a load of rubbish. Then he started looking around him, following the science and over the years watched it become a “global megatrend”. 

“The decision Sharon and I came to was, we’ve got to play a long-term game. It’s a lot easier to move a little bit each year than to suddenly find yourself having to make radical changes that make radical impacts.” 

Farmers who delay the decision face a more traumatic approach, Moss says. 

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Sharon Brettkelly is co-host of The Detail podcast.

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