Professor Rich McDowell gives thoughts on new land report

AgResearch has posted comments from Professor Rich McDowell, its principal scientist and Chief Scientist for the Our Land and Water national science challenge, on the just-released report on the state of land in New Zealand.

The report can be read HERE.

Professor McDowell writes:

While this report does provide a snapshot of the state of the land as far as impacts, it is important to note that it does not provide insights into the trends in relation to phosphorus in the soil, and macroporosity of the soil – and how land use, and intensity of that use, contributes. Phosphorus in the soil is one measure, but there are other variables at play such as compaction of the soil, that will dictate whether there is phosphorus run-off into waterways to do damage.

What we do know is that the data for water quality (in regard to phosphorus) and sediment concentrations indicate that far more sites are showing improvements now (2004-2013) than before (1994-2003). This is despite changes in land use, land use intensity and indications that phosphorus under dairying is enriched, and macroporosity of the soil is impaired. These improvements may be due to greater awareness, farmers being more proactive or policy changes. Efforts include the isolation of critical source areas that contribute most phosphorus and sediment loss from farms or catchments, and targeting critical source areas with measures to mitigate these losses.

The question is always whether these efforts are enough to meet community aspirations of water quality. This is why the Our Land and Water National Science Challenge (hosted by AgResearch) is supporting work examining land use suitability, and providing indicators on what a parcel of land can produce, the potential of these land parcels to lose contaminants, and the effect of these contaminants on water according to a water quality objective. This work will also be expanded to examine objectives for soil.

You can read more about work in regard to land use suitability, and sources and flows of contaminants, at pages 17 and 18 HERE. 

Source: AgResearch



April 19 deadline for submissions to EPA on methyl bromide alternative

Draslovka, a Czech-based firm, has applied to the Environmental Protection Authority for approval to register and import ethanedinitrile (EDN) into New Zealand as an alternative to the fumigant methyl bromide which is used for export logs and timber at New Zealand ports.

The submission period for this application has been extended one week to 5pm, Thursday 19 April 2018.

Application documents can be found HERE.

More information about how to make a submission on this application can be found HERE.

Stakeholders in Methyl Bromide Reduction (STIMBR), an organisation focused on reducing the release of methyl bromide into the atmosphere, have identified EDN as a possible substitute following an international review of alternative treatments.

According to 2015 data, New Zealand is the world’s fifth-highest user of methyl bromide.

In 2010 the Environmental Protection Authority announced that by 2020 methyl bromide fumigations for logs must use recapture technology to reduce the amount discharged into the atmosphere.

WorkSafe New Zealand is also consulting on proposed changes to the Workplace Exposure Standard for EDN.

More information on Worksafe’s proposed changes can be found HERE.

EPA to raise the costs of providing its services for safeguarding the environment

The Environmental  Protection Authority is calling for public submissions on proposals for increasing its charges .

The costs of assessing hazardous substance applications are “changing” as it aims to develop a more balanced approach to the way it charges for its services, the authority announced today.

“The services we provide in assessing and processing applications for hazardous substances and new organisms play a key role in the way we work to protect the New Zealand environment and the communities in which we all live, work and play,” says Chief Executive, Dr Allan Freeth.

“Under our existing approach applicants pay, on average, just over 10 per cent of what it really costs us to manage an application from start to finish. That means that it falls to the taxpayer to pick up the rest. We don’t think that’s fair.

“With that in mind we are looking to develop a more realistic cost-recovery approach that will see organisations who use our services pay a fairer share.

“That would, in turn, free up our government funding and allow us to pump more money into reassessing chemicals of concern, ensuring enforcement and compliance with the rules around their use, and delivering information and advice to the public on staying safe around hazardous substances.”

Public submissions are sought on a consultation paper which outlines the charging proposals.

Click HERE for a quick summary of the proposals and the approach taken to determine the new fees.

• Click HERE to download the full consultation paper.

•And HERE to make a submission.

Submissions close on 21 May 2018.

Source: Environmental Protection Authority

More transparency advocated by “critic and conscience” of land and water science challenge

Professor Troy Baisden … open up, please.

Questions have been raised about the  achievements of the Our Land and Water National Science Challenge, launched in January 2016 by Steven Joyce, then Minister of Science and Innovation, with the worthy aim of enhancing New Zealand’s primary sector economic contributions while improving the environment.

Transparency is one of the concerns raised by Waikato University’s Troy Baisden.

This concern was heightened at a symposium last week when the governance board’s chair, Dr Paul Reynolds said:

“Sadly … we are not going to tell you much about the excellent science we have done.”

The curious explanation – apparently – is that the symposium needed to focus on the Challenge’s future.

When the challenge was launched, Dr Reynolds said (HERE) the primary sectors underpin the country’s economy and it had never been more urgent to provide research solutions that enhanced productivity while maintaining and improving the environmental values on which farming, as well as society, depended.

He said researchers had worked extensively with farmers, growers and foresters, environmental managers and Māori to co-develop a programme to meet the challenge’s objective.

Continue reading

Prominent Swedish scientist to present lecture on global sustainability


Professor Johan Rockström, Director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, next week will present the NZCGS 5th Global Affairs Lecture at the University of Auckland.

Considered one of the world’s leading thinkers on global sustainability, Professor Rockström’s lecture is entitled The Planetary Boundaries: Implications for Global Governance in the 21st Century.

Professor Rockström led the team of Earth system and environmental scientists who developed the innovative Planetary Boundaries concept. This is the idea that there are nine Earth system processes that define the limits required to uphold the world’s environmental safe zone. They are a framework which marks a threshold that should not be crossed.

The boundaries are based on scientific evidence that human activity is the main driver of global environmental change. By defining the boundaries, action can be taken to preserve Earth’s resilience.

The nine boundaries (climate change, biodiversity loss, the biogeochemical cycle on Earth, ocean acidification, land use, fresh water availability, ozone depletion, atmospheric aerosol levels, and chemical pollution), are meant as scientifically determined sustainability guidelines for governments and corporations.

Professor Rockström is the Hillary Institute’s 2017 global Hillary Laureate. The Institute has brought him to New Zealand to work directly with Government and the public and private sectors. His visit to Auckland is in association with the New Zealand Centre for Global Studies (NZCGS) and the New Zealand Centre for Environmental Law at the University of Auckland’s Faculty of Law.

He will be joining five other prominent experts in the field who will give short presentations as well as taking part in a question and answer session.

Source: University of Auckland  


Don’t waste that cow poop – it could pave the way to a paper-making sideline for farmers

Where there’s muck, there’s brass, they say in Yorkshire – and maybe our scientists could build on overseas research to help dairy farmers develop a new income stream from cattle shit.

AgScience draws attention to the possibilities on learning from Discover HERE that scientists may have found a way to generate environmentally friendly paper from cow and elephant poop.

The end product – dare we suggest if – could be called poo-per.

Regardless of the name, it offers a simpler and sustainable alternative to the traditional, resource-intense paper-making process.

According to the report on the Discover website, cows and elephants streamline the paper-making operation by taking up a good chunk of the pre-processing duty in their digestive system.

The report says:

In traditional paper production, non-wood pulp and wood pulp tend to undergo various chemical and mechanical processes to produce paper. There have been a lot of positive changes with improving and recovering recycled materials. However, it’s still not as efficient and environmentally sustainable as hoped. Enter manure.

Andrew Bismarck, a PhD at the University of Vienna, Austria, noticed that goat manure was comprised of partially digested plant matter, which he hypothesized must contain cellulose.

Cellulose is an important component of paper. Typically, a lot of processing has to be undergone to retrieve usable cellulose from pulp.

He and his team noted that roaming herbivores’—such as the elephant—diets consist of high-fiber, cellulose containing materials, of which they digest only 30 to 40 percent.

The size of the animal is positively correlated with the amount of usable material they can produce. From ingestion to excretion, the animal typically chews up the material and passes it through the stomach where it’s broken down with acid and enzymes, bypassing many of the energy-intensive chemical treatments that raw wood requires to create the same product.

The manure requires little post-treatment to remove impurities and preparation for use in paper. By reducing the amount of steps, the sustainable product saves a tremendous amount of energy and chemical use.

The resulting paper is also sturdier than conventional paper such as newspapers ans can be produced with consistency, Bismarck and colleagues say. In addition to being used to write on, the paper made from these living processing plants can also be used as filters, reinforcement and polymer composites.

Bismarck mentioned that it could also be a good replacement for coffee filters (potentially a good accompaniment to poop coffee?).

In places with a bountiful supply of dung, namely elephant parks in Africa and cattle farms, raw material could flow in by the truckload daily. Utilizing this method to upcycle the manure can help both save trees and manage waste.

Bismarck and his team are currently working on making the process even more sustainable by attempting to make use of all the byproducts of the treatment and extraction.

You know what they say: waste not, want not. Their methods and findings were published last week by American Chemical Society.

But the Discover report acknowledges these are not poop paper innovators. Late last year, scientists from China used panda poo to make facial tissues.

The elephant and cow poo paper join the poo paper family – and you can purchase them at the online store.

Paper from elephant poo obviously could be used in the production of jumbo-sized toilet rolls.

We will leave it to our scientists to work out how the poo from Kiwi cattle could be used.



Sustainability of NZ dairy among climate change issues under examination by world scientists

The sustainability of New Zealand’s dairy industry is among topics being put under the spotlight in Christchurch where 120 world-leading scientists from 59 countries are meeting under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a global coalition of scientists and academics.

Over the next five days the scientists will be discussing how best to tackle the ever-pressing issue of climate change and drafting a report to advise how governments should deal with the problem in the decades ahead.

Among the issues are how greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture can be reduced and the impacts of climate change dealt with at the same time as more and higher-quality food is produced for the world’s growing population.

A panel discussion involving some of the scientists on Wednesday night is sold out but will be recorded as a podcast through the Royal Society of New Zealand.

Newshub has reported Lincoln University Associate Professor Anita Wreford as saying the discussions will provide “positive solutions” on how to improve current farming systems in New Zealand.

“I’m not saying move away from dairy completely but I think we certainly need to look at other options.

“I think we need a mix of land use, more diversity in our landscapes, different types of products.

“I’m sure there will always be a place for dairy production here, we have strong grass feed, but I do think the scale that it is reaching at the moment is probably not going to be suitable in the future.”

Minister for Climate Change James Shaw says the report which the scientists produce will be “absolutely critical” to New Zealand.