Federated Farmers says climate change actions should be practical, research-based

Federated Farmers supports the need for action to address climate change but says New Zealand’s responses should be practical, cost-effective and based on sound research.

Delegates representing 24 branches around the nation unanimously passed a 12-point Federated Farmers Policy on Climate Change in Wellington last week.

“The scientific consensus is that climate change is happening and that humanity, including agriculture, contributes,” the policy states.

The 13,000-member farmer group called for greater investment in research efforts to reduce biological agricultural emissions. It was worth accessing all the tools of modern biology, including biotechnology, but the measures should be cost-effective and not at the expense of farm productivity.

The Paris agreement also gives priority to food security and production, recognising the dual challenge of controlling global temperatures and feeding a growing population.

New Zealand farmers are world-leading carbon efficient protein producers so it makes no sense to include our agricultural biological emissions in the Emissions Trading Scheme until there are effective mitigation tools, and our international competitors are likewise included.

“We would otherwise simply be exporting production to other less efficient players, making the global environmental problem worse, not better,” Federated Farmers climate change portfolio leader Anders Crofoot says.

Federated Farmers sees co-benefits from managing the cross-over between climate change and other policy issues. For example, research into better understanding the nitrogen cycle could lead to reductions in nitrous oxide emissions as well as the nitrate leaching that affects waterways.

Soil erosion control plantings in hill country and riparian planting will sequester emissions, reduce sedimentation and phosphate in streams and rivers, and also achieve biodiversity objectives.

Farming’s need to remain viable requires an exploration of the implications of the threats and opportunities arising from a changing climate, Mr Crofoot says.

AgResearch CEO says NZ will benefit from new science links with China

AgResearch has announced it intends to form a joint international research centre with China’s largest state–owned food company and largest university research department specialising in food science and nutrition.

A Collaboration Arrangement was signed earlier this month in Beijing with the Nutrition and Health Research Institute within the China Oils and Foodstuffs Corporation and with the College of Food Science and Nutritional Engineering of China Agriculture University.

The parties will explore opportunities to work together formally in the name of a “Joint International Research Centre for Food Science” to promote international exchange, research and productivity, with a particular focus on further enhancing a China/New Zealand relationship”.

The arrangement states:

“The overall goal of the collaboration is to initiate activities that are of mutual benefit to the parties in terms of knowledge development, scientific and technological innovation and economic benefit”.

AgResearch chief executive Tom Richardson says the relationship with such influential institutions – from the world’s most populous country with a rapidly expanding middle class – opens up a host of opportunities for AgResearch, and agriculture and agribusiness in New Zealand.

Some of the key research areas where AgResearch expects to work closely with COFCO and CAU are food science, processing, food assurance and safety, and human nutrition.

Australia-New Zealand science and innovation agreement signed

Science and Innovation Minister Paul Goldsmith has welcomed the signing of a ground- breaking bilateral international science agreement between New Zealand and Australia.

The Australia–New Zealand Science, Research and Innovation Cooperation Agreement is a commitment to valuable collaboration across the innovation and science systems, and between researchers and innovative companies, on both sides of the Tasman.

Goldsmith said the agreement sets out a clear work programme that will provide a focus-point for cooperation.

“New Zealand’s role as foundation investors in the Australian Synchrotron is a prime example of that collaboration, and means we now have access to a facility which can assist in the development of everything from forensics, to surgical tools, to understanding environmental issues.”

Synchrotron users vary from universities and Crown Research Institutes, through to the private sector and high-tech start-ups.

Key initial proposals in the work programme include mapping collaborative research opportunities, research infrastructure planning and investment, standards and measurement research and the exchange of experts, knowledge and expertise.

The agreement also provides for a wide array of initiatives such as common science priorities, working together in other international endeavours and the promotion of a trans-Tasman innovation ecosystem for talent and investment attraction.

More information on the agreement and associated new initiatives can be found on the MBIE website (HERE).

NIWA team finds native forests are absorbing more carbon dioxide

New research led by NIWA atmospheric scientists Drs Kay Steinkamp and Sara Mikaloff-Fletcher indicates that New Zealand’s forests absorb much more carbon dioxide than previously thought, with much of the uptake occurring in the southwest of the South Island.

Carbon dioxide is a primary greenhouse gas and responsible for most of the human-induced warming in the atmosphere. Globally, carbon sinks, such as oceans and forests, have helped mitigate the effects of climate change by absorbing about half the carbon dioxide emitted by human activities over the past few decades.

New Zealand’s forest carbon uptake played a key role in meeting our commitments under the Kyoto Climate treaty and is expected to play an important role in meeting our COP21 commitments.

The results of the research have just been published in the scientific journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics.

Dr Mikaloff-Fletcher and her team used an “inverse” modelling approach to estimate the amount of carbon uptake. This is done by measuring the carbon dioxide present in the atmosphere at a network of sites, and then using high resolution weather models to determine what parts of New Zealand the air has passed over before reaching the site.

Simulations from a land model, run by partners at GNS Science, and ocean carbon data provide additional information. From there, the team calculates the best combinations of sources and sinks to match the data.

 This project included data from NIWA’s clean air station at Baring Head, near Wellington, its atmospheric research station at Lauder in Central Otago, and measurements taken from a ship that collects observations on a line between Nelson and Osaka, Japan.

“The inverse approach integrates information about carbon dioxide sources and sinks from atmospheric data, ocean data and models,” Dr Steinkamp says.

“The story the atmosphere is telling us is that there’s a big carbon sink somewhere in the South Island, and the areas that seem to be responsible are those largely dominated by indigenous forests. However, we cannot rule out an important role for carbon uptake in the hill country or from pasture from our current data.”

Dr Mikaloff-Fletcher says this was a very surprising result mainly because strong carbon sinks are expected when there is a lot of forest regrowth.

“Carbon uptake this strong is usually associated with peak growth of recently planted forests and tends to slow as forests mature. This amount of uptake from relatively undisturbed forest land is remarkable and may be caused by processes unique to New Zealand or part of a wider global story.”

The National Inventory method reported by Ministry for the Environment reports annually on New Zealand’s carbon uptake. This internationally standardised methodology puts the amount of carbon being absorbed by all New Zealand forests at 82 teragrams (Tg) CO2 (A teragram is one millon metric tons) total over 2011-2013, the period studied by Dr. Mikaloff-Fletcher’s team.

Once accounting rule differences are corrected for, the new NIWA measurement approach finds that actual carbon uptake could be up to 60% higher.

The inventory-based method estimates carbon uptake using measurements of tree growth taken from about 100 sampling areas, and extrapolates this to the entire country using statistical techniques and modelling. There is still considerable work to be done in comparing the two independent approaches.

“We need to find out definitively what processes are controlling this unexpectedly large carbon uptake, in order to understand the implications for land management and climate treaties. We need additional measurments to tell us if this is unique to the southern half of the South Island or holds across a wider range of New Zealand.”

Dr Mikaloff-Fletcher says the ability of forests to absorb carbon is a powerful tool to help address the challenge of climate change.

Next steps include incorporating data from NIWA’s newest atmospheric CO2 observing site, Maunga Kākaramea/Rainbow Mountain in the central North Island, deploying two new atmospheric CO2 observing sites and a major improvement to model resolution. This will start to shed light on what’s happening in the North Island and the Canterbury plains.

Biosecurity warning: NZ needs to be alert as global pest threat grows

Armed with new research showing pests are continuing to spread around the world, a biosecurity expert is sounding a warning for New Zealand to continue to be vigilant about guarding its borders.

Professor Philip Hulme, of the Bio-Protection Centre at Lincoln University, is a senior author on the study which shows international efforts to prevent the entry and spread of pests, weeds, and diseases have not been sufficient to keep up with the pace of globalisation, and we can certainly expect more invasions in the future.

It revealed the number of invasive species worldwide has been increasing over the last 200 years with no sign of slowing down. At a global scale, this means that there are almost two new pest incursions somewhere in the world every day.

New Zealand needs to ensure biosecurity is right at the top of the business and tourism agenda, Professor Hulme says.

“As a country with a unique flora and fauna as well as strong economic dependence of agriculture, it is vital for New Zealand to have stringent and robust biosecurity policies.

“I’m not sure this message gets through enough to our millions of tourists, the airlines, or importers,” he says.

The study, involving an international team of 45 scientists, found increases in invasive species were associated with human activities, particularly the expansion of agriculture, horticulture and global trade.

While new species can boost diversity in an area, they can also have detrimental impacts on the native ecosystem, economy, environment and human health. In some cases, they can even bring about the extinction of native species.

Among the positives, New Zealand was one of the few countries shown to have fewer records of weed incursions in the last few decades.

“The success at reducing weed incursions is largely down to New Zealand implementing a strict biosecurity policy in 1993,” says Professor Hulme, “as such, our biosecurity systems can be viewed as a global example of best practice.”

Altogether, the researchers compiled more than 45,000 records of about 17,000 different species worldwide, including plants, birds, insects, mammals, fishes, fungi, algae and molluscs. Getting this long-term data is difficult and these numbers are likely to underestimate the full extent of species incursions, Professor Hulme says.

The study’s findings highlight the continued need for improvements in national legislation and international agreements to help mitigate invasions and keep up with impacts from increasing globalisation.

“New Zealand is already leading the way and hopefully through Biosecurity 2025, New Zealand is on the road to futureproofing the system to meet increasing global trade and travel that present continual new challenges,” says Professor Hulme.

Seebens et al (2016). No saturation in the accumulation of alien species worldwide. Nature Communications DOI: 101.1038/ncomms14435 (HERE)

Govt ploughs $2m into engaging young kiwis with science

Science and Innovation Minister Paul Goldsmith has announced $2 million of funding for 41 projects from the 2017 Unlocking Curious Minds contestable fund.

This fund particularly focuses on projects that engage young New Zealanders who have fewer opportunities to be involved with science and technology.

“It’s about giving young Kiwis more choices. Taking part in science and technology keeps more career options open to young people,” says Mr Goldsmith.

Funded projects will be led by a wide variety of organisations including primary schools, tertiary education organisations, Crown Research Institutes, museums, trusts, and companies.

The Fund offered two types of grants in the 2017 round: up to $30,000 for local or community projects, and up to $150,000 for regional or national projects.

More information about the Unlocking Curious Minds contestable fund and other projects supported under Curious Minds HERE.

UC researchers look into what makes plant communities tick

A team of University of Canterbury (UC) scientists and overseas collaborators are working to find out what makes diverse plant communities like New Zealand’s iconic grasslands tick and what allows so many competing species to co-exist?

To do this, UC Associate Professor Daniel Stouffer says they need to go back to basics.

“We want to change the way people understand how plants compete and how we measure what happens – the models and approaches we’ve been using haven’t really changed for at least 100 years,” he says.

Long-term, with the aid of a Marsden Grant for $795,000, the researchers hope their work will lead to better management and protection of our ecosystems.

If these sorts of ecosystems are to be managed and  their complete collapse avoided, Associate Professor Stouffer says, “we need to understand the very basic things, and the strategies they’re using to solve these problems are usually the best place to start.”

He discusses his research project, Quantifying the Importance of Non-additive Competition in Diverse Plant Communities here.