Easy access is opened to a vast store of environmental research data

Identifying unknown organisms, forecasting the weather and understanding the potential impacts of a tsunami are among the possibilities opened up by the National Environmental Data Centre (NEDC) website.

The country’s seven Crown Research Institutes (CRIs) have created the website to make the environmental information held by them more accessible to all New Zealanders.

The datasets include a huge range of information from climate and atmosphere, freshwater, land and oceans, including biodiversity and geological data. They will be of benefit not only to advance science, but also for a myriad of uses by Māori, central and regional government, businesses, researchers and the general public. Continue reading

Govt’s seeks feedback on blueprint for adapting to a warmer world

New Zealanders can have their say from today on a proposed National Adaptation Plan to help communities across the country adapt to the unavoidable impacts of climate change.

Reforming resource management, bringing in laws to support managed retreat, and updating how the government handles emergencies are among the top priorities in the draft plan.

The plan aims at bringing down emissions and helping prevent the worst effects of climate change, but must also support communities already being hit by more extreme and more frequent weather events, Climate Change Minister James Shaw said.

Central Government does not bear all the costs under the proposal.  The consultation asks how best to share risks and costs between property and asset owners, insurers, banks and local government as well.

It also asks for views on managed retreat and flood insurance, to ensure a joined-up approach to climate change adaptation. Continue reading

Latest state of the environment report gives cause for disquiet

A comprehensive assessment of New Zealand’s environment shows improvements in some areas but continued reduction in many aspects of environmental quality, with consequences for human health and wellbeing.

The assessment, produced every three years by the Ministry for the Environment and Stats NZ, draws on nearly 50 environmental indicators, including 11 updated specifically for the report.

Environment Aotearoa 2022 found pressures of land use change and intensification, pollution, invasive species, and climate change were having detrimental impacts on the environment.

New Zealand’s rare ecosystems and indigenous species are under threat with 94 per cent of reptiles threatened with extinction or at risk of becoming extinct, and nearly three-quarters of terrestrial birds threatened or at risk.

The area of highly productive land that was unavailable for agriculture increased 54 per cent between 2002 and 2019. Continue reading

Reducing nitrogen losses from dairy farms on stony soils

In the past two decades, much dryland farming has been converted to irrigated dairy farming in New Zealand, notably in eastern areas of the South Island.   Soils there are largely shallow, free-draining, and stony.

Dairy conversions have raised concerns about increased nitrate leaching as well as adding to national greenhouse gas emissions.

What changes could be made to farm management strategies, therefore,  and how could farmers and rural decision-makers better understand how to increase soil carbon and reduce nitrogen losses from dairy farms on stony soils?

A five-year MBIE-funded collaborative research programme, Reducing nitrogen losses from farms led by Manaaki Whenua/Landcare Research’s Dr David Whitehead, set out to find out.  The research was done on-farm at Lincoln University’s Ashley Dene Research & Development Station in Canterbury.

“We aimed to provide management options to manipulate carbon inputs using different grassland and fodder species and irrigation to reduce carbon and nitrogen losses,” says Dr Whitehead.

“To understand the carbon inputs to reducing nitrogen losses, we tested whether carbon inputs to two crops could reduce the rate of nitrogen losses. Then, for measuring and modelling paddock water, carbon and nitrogen inputs and losses on stony soils, we used predictive models for irrigated and non-irrigated lucerne and tested the findings against field measurements,” explains Dr Whitehead.

Overall, researchers found the concept central to farm management practices is that increasing carbon input to the soil leads to retention of both carbon and nitrogen as soil organic matter.

“The research findings have shown that inputting of carbon to the soil is crucial to retaining nitrogen and carbon in the soil. We found soil carbon has been decreasing, and this depends on the grazing and the irrigation regime. But if we want long-term sustainability in our agricultural systems, it’s critical that we maintain increases in our soil carbon. We are also helping to mitigate climate change by removing that carbon from the atmosphere and storing it in the soil,” says Dr Whitehead.

Reducing nitrogen losses from farms was a collaboration between Manaaki Whenua, Lincoln University, Plant & Food Research, Scion, University of Canterbury and the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre.

The programme involved 31 research contributors, resulted in 16 scientific publications, resulted in three PhDs awarded and valuable engagement with Environment Canterbury, MPI, Overseer and Taumutu Iwi.

Source: Landcare Research

Regulating chemicals – Agcarm says NZ has strong stewardship of them in food production

The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Simon Upton, is proposing changes to the way New Zealand manages chemicals to ensure their environmental impacts are not overlooked.

In a report released today, ‘Regulating the Environmental Fate of Chemicals’, he asks how well our regulatory system understands the environmental fate of chemicals, including agrichemicals such as neonicotinoids, terbuthylazine, Zinc bacitracin (antibiotics mainly used for poultry) and tetracycline antibiotics used in veterinary medicine applications.

On paper, a robust system is in place to assess risks when a chemical is introduced to the country, the commissioner says in the report.

But many chemicals that have been in use for decades have not been subject to close scrutiny, although much of the science on their environmental impact has changed

Mr Upton says the rules about how a chemical can be used shouldn’t be static – regulatory authorities need to be able to adapt as new information comes to light. Continue reading

Air pollution significantly reduces pollination by confusing butterflies and bees

A new study finds pollination reduced by almost a third when diesel fumes and ozone were present – the negative impact of these common air pollutants on pollination were observed in the natural environment.

Common air pollutants from both urban and rural environments may be reducing the pollinating abilities of insects by preventing them from sniffing out the crops and wildflowers that depend on them, new research has shown.

Scientists from the University of Reading, the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, and the University of Birmingham found that there were up to 70% fewer pollinators, up to 90% fewer flower visits and an overall pollination reduction of up to 31% in test plants when common ground-level air pollutants, including diesel exhaust pollutants and ozone, were present.

The study, published in the journal Environmental Pollution, is the first to observe a negative impact of common air pollutants on pollination in the natural environment. The theory is that the pollutants react with and change the scents of flowers, making them harder to find. Continue reading

Agricultural runoff contributes to global warming – study helps us figure out how and what we can do about it

Nitrous oxide (N2O) is a potent greenhouse gas, with 300 times the warming ability of carbon dioxide.

Due to fertiliser runoff from farm fields, an increasing load of nitrogen is washing into rivers and streams, where nitrogen-breathing microbes break some of the fertiliser down into N2O, which the river releases into the atmosphere as it tumbles toward the ocean. But, until now, scientists haven’t had a clear picture of how the process works, what fraction of the runoff winds up as N2O or what steps might be taken to mitigate N2O emissions.

“Humans are fundamentally altering the nitrogen cycle,” says Matthew Winnick, sole author of the new paper, published recently in AGU Advances, and professor of geosciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

“We’ve changed how nitrogen moves through the environment.” Continue reading

New Zealand is shown to be well placed to ride regenerative agriculture wave

There is a significant opportunity for New Zealand to position itself to take advantage of the global regenerative agriculture trend, according to market research into consumer attitudes commissioned by Beef + Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ) and New Zealand Winegrowers (NZW).

But there is a recognition, too, that there is no clear definition of regenerative agriculture globally.

This paves the way for ‘regenerative’ being defined in a New Zealand context.

Although still in its infancy, regenerative agriculture is gathering momentum and is set to become a significant trend in food internationally, says Sam McIvor, chief executive of B+LNZ.

“Brands are beginning to follow the leads of farmers and growers in the support of regenerative agriculture, and while the concept has yet to properly take hold among consumers, this research reveals there is a bright future.

“Fortunately, we believe the majority of New Zealand’s sheep and beef farming practices naturally align with key pillars of regenerative products or production. Continue reading

Most agricultural funding distorts prices and harms environment – UN report

Our readers will already know that agriculture is a polluting industry which raises a raft of challenges in the world-wide effort to tackle climate change.

The role played  by agricultural subsidies is addressed in a new UN report, which calls for repurposing government subsidies and incentives to achieve more of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and realise the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration.

The main finding of the report is that around 87% of the $540 billion in total annual government support given worldwide to agricultural producers includes measures that are price distorting and that can be harmful to nature and health.

The report, A multi-billion-dollar opportunity: Repurposing agricultural support to transform food systems, was published by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

Global support to producers in the form of subsidies and other incentives, makes up 15 per cent of total agricultural production value.

By 2030, this is projected to more than triple, to $1.759 trillion. Continue reading

Government investment in farmer-led catchment groups sweeps past 150 mark

Government investment in on-the-ground efforts by farmers to improve land management practices has passed a milestone, with more than 170 catchment groups nationwide now receiving support, Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor says.

“When it comes to freshwater, we have a job to do as an industry and that’s to restore our rivers within a generation,” Damien O’Connor said.

Today he announced $2.1 million to support 31 farmer-led catchment groups in the ManawatūRangitīkei, and Wairarapa which are helping farmers and growers transition to more sustainable land use. Continue reading