Climate Change: How New Zealand’s food and fibre sector needs to adapt

By 2050 it is estimated that there will be 10 billion people on the planet. That's 10 billion people to feed - something that the agriculture sector will play a huge part in making happen.

However, with extreme weather events, rising sea levels, and destructive sea surges becoming a more frequent occurrence, it is clear that climate change is and will continue to affect our farming environment drastically. Changing the conditions we farm in and have become familiar with over decades.

Meaning that not just farmers, but the entire New Zealand Food and Fibre sector needs to adapt to these changes.

Greenhouse gas emissions are key contributors to the changes we’re seeing. Considering agriculture contributes to nearly half of New Zealand's total emissions, according to the Ministry for the Environment, the area has been identified by the government as a key obstacle to tackle in the agricultural sector. Issues like high levels of nitrous oxide being produced from soil and fertilisers plus methane from manure management are just a couple of reasons that actions such as He Waka Eke Noa - Primary Sector Action Partnership, have been developed.

So what’s the real kicker here for our food producers?

The introduction of an onfarm emissions pricing mechanism that’s set to take place in 2025¹. While this is a step toward achieving carbon-zero 2030, it is also putting a tonne of pressure on our food producers. Fast forward to 2050 - the year New Zealand has pledged to have reduced biogenic methane emissions to below 24-47% of 2017 levels, and the pressure increases further.

However, it is important to remember that New Zealand's methane emissions are just one of the pressing issues we need to learn to overcome. With He Waka Eke Noa's overall goal being to:
"Equip farmers and growers to report, manage and reduce agricultural emissions and adapt to a changing climate while continuing to sustainably produce quality Food and Fibre products for domestic and international markets." 

Issues like land use, and soil and water quality are also important factors in tackling these issues as we look to create more sustainable farm management and production practices. It’s now more important than ever that we rethink how we are choosing to utilise our resources.

This is where technology, specifically agtech, can play a role.

The agtech Industry Transformation Plan (or ITP) released July 2020 highlighted the opportunities we have as an industry and the challenges we need to work together to overcome and adapt to the new climate.

However, with change comes opportunity and in this case a major one for the innovation that is taking place in the agtech ecosystem, both nationally and internationally. It’s going to be a difficult feat to achieve carbon-zero alone. In fact farmers simply can’t, and shouldn’t do it alone. They are going to need to employ the help of technology, and want to, to reduce emissions and farm more sustainably. Additionally, the pressure of carbon tax presents another opportunity for the agtech industry to contribute from an economic standpoint.

We have been seeing innovation come through for some time now that is looking to reduce emissions and help farmers with this transition. 

We’ve collated a list of companies below who have smart innovations looking to help reduce emissions and limit the impacts of climate change on farming operations.

  • Water: Zero Mass Water (now Source.Co). A company using sunlight and air to create drinking water with the possibility of scale for farming operations https://www.source.co/
  • Grass: Barenbrug (formerly Agriseed). A company developing better pastures, including drought tolerant grass https://www.barenbrug.co.nz/ 
  • Grass: Agricom / Ecotain. A company using environmental plantain to reduce nitrogen leaching from urine patches https://bit.ly/3bYZO00 
  • Emissions: AgriSea. A company using seaweed in innovative ways to reduce emissions an improve quality in farming practices https://agrisea.co.nz/ 
  • Emissions: Symbrosia. A company using seaweed innovation to produce supplementary feed for dairy cattle to help reduce their methane emissions https://symbrosia.co/ 

However, more innovation is required to adapt, and incentives need to be continued to be put in place for research and start-ups to develop solutions to these issues. Sprout is here to help. We can’t do it alone though. Farmers need to be willing to adopt this technology, make changes and leave positive tapuwae (footprints) on our planet's future. The government needs to regulate and legislate but also fund programs and R&D for the sector so our food producers aren’t left wandering and with hefty fines. For this change to be a success we must collaborate.

Will you be part of the solution?

Let us know what you’re doing to help the NZ Food and Fibre sector adapt to climate change, Tweet at us @sproutagritech using the hashtag, #foodandfibreclimatesolutions

Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. (2020). Agritech in New Zealand: Towards an industry transformation plan.

Ministry for the Environment. (2019). Likely climate change impacts in New Zealand. 

Ministry for the Environment. (2019).  He Waka Eke Noa - Primary Sector Climate Action Partnership. https://www.mfe.govt.nz/climate-change/he-waka-eke-noa-primary-sector-climate-change-action-partnership