Farmers can hit net zero by 2040 while growing productivity: EY report

Farmers can boost their bottom line and grow productivity while achieving net zero greenhouse emissions by 2040, a new report finds, adding to pressure on the Nationals party to cut a deal on climate policy before the Glasgow climate summit in November.

Business consultancy EY released a report on Wednesday that mapped out what it called a pathway under which the agriculture sector could reduce its 15 per cent share of the nation’s emissions to net zero within the next twenty years.

Farm leaders are urging politicians to include agriculture in net zero plans so the sector can cash in on opportunities created by low emissions economies. Credit:Janie Barrett

Prime Minister Scott Morrison wants to achieve net zero emissions “as soon as possible” and Australia is expected to come under significant pressure to do so from its international allies at the United Nation’s climate summit.

But without the support of the junior Coalition partner, Mr Morrison is yet to sign off on a deadline.

Most wealthy nation’s have committed to reduce emissions by around 50 per cent by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050, based on 2005 levels. Australia’s current 2030 commitment requires emissions to fall at least 26 per cent.

EY was commissioned to produce the report by Farmers for Climate Action. It mapped out a series of initiatives such as employing new low-emissions farm machinery, using feed additives at feedlots to limit methane-laden burps from livestock, and harvest carbon stored in new tree plantings to offset other sources of greenhouse gases.

EY’s Climate Change and Sustainability Services partner Elizabeth Rose said the report projected productivity growth across the agriculture sector out to 2050, while hitting net zero by 2040.

“The actions outlined in the report will result in healthier ecosystems and higher quality and quantity of produce, improving financial returns for farmers and increasing employment opportunities in our regions,” Ms Rose said.

Senior Nationals representatives such as Agriculture Minister David Littleproud and Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce are waiting to see what benefits they can secure for their constituents in a climate deal, while several representatives like Senator Matt Canavan oppose emissions reduction targets.

Mr Morrison has said no future climate policies under his government would ask rural industries to bear the cost of emissions reduction.

General manager of the Australian Farm Institute think tank Katie McRobert said much of the industry recognises the need to set emissions deadlines, but there are “barriers to participation in carbon farming markets and commitment to net zero targets”.

“Some agriculture industries are much better placed than others to reduce the source of emissions, some to store carbon. Some are well-placed to do both, but again you have to factor in differences – which are vast across Australia – in soil types, rainfall and vegetation, the key determinants of carbon capture reliability,” Ms McRobert said.

EY’s report said going greener would help Australian agriculture secure access to premium international markets that are increasingly demanding sustainable credentials from major exporters like Australia.

Around 70 per cent of the food and fibre grown in Australia is sold offshore, comprising about 14 per cent of the nation’s total exports and 2 per cent of GDP. The sector employs more than 300,000 workers and this year reached a record $73 billion gross value of production on the back of strong livestock markets and grain harvests.

The National Farmers’ Federation has set a target for net zero emissions by 2050. Industry peak lobby group GrainGrowers has endorsed the NFF’s plans and committed to develop a grain-specific target for 2030 within the next 18 months. The red meat sector set a goal in 2017 to reach net zero by 2030.

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