I attended the Farmers for Climate Action conference on 'Risks and Rewards of Farming in a Changing Climate'.
There was an interesting talk by Doug McNicholl, from the Meat and Livestock Australia group, about how the industry aims to be carbon neutral by 2030.
Meat production contributes to greenhouse gases through methane emissions; processing; overgrazing; burning; clearing; application of fertiliser; nitrous oxide from manure, and use of diesel and farm chemicals.
McNicholl stated the industry has reduced emissions by 56 per cent (2005-2016). But if you remove the amount of land not cleared for beef production, a more accurate figure is eight per cent over the last five years.
McNicholl pointed out the (generally grass-fed) red meat industry is more sustainable in Australia, as much of the 88 per cent of the land used for grazing is not suited to cropping and uses less water and crop land than feed lot cattle.
In feed lots, however, you can use red algae as a feed supplement to reduce methane emissions.
Some of the other talks tended to focus more on adaptation to climate change, rather than mitigation.
It was made clear by Steve Crimp (ANU) even if we hold our warming under two degrees there will be changes, with the Orange climate having higher temperatures, warmer winters, a reduction in rainfall (but more storms).
Farmers will need to make changes in respect of tillage, retention of crop residue, carbon sequestration, renewable energy, cattle feed, fallow extension and erosion control, not to mention a whole suite of new crops, possibly gene-modified.
It was noticeable the 'elephant in the room' - land clearing - was mostly ignored.
If groups like Farmers for Climate Action really wish to mitigate climate change, they should follow the principle 'first do no harm' (ie they should be pushing governments to protect native vegetation. Native woodlands are natural carbon sinks).
It was suggested in response to my question about this that farmers should be subsidised to keep the bush intact and I don't disagree with that idea.
If current trends continue, with only nine per cent native vegetation left in reasonable condition in NSW, it won't be long before the only bush left will be in national parks.
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