Reducing emissions intensity via efficiency improvements

How it works

A feature of New Zealand agriculture is that emissions per unit of product (known as ‘emissions intensity’) have been reducing consistently in recent decades. The rate of reduction has been close to 1% per annum over the last two decades. It isn't possible to relate this improvement to any single practice; but things like improvements in plant and animal genetics, grassland management and animal health, and better optimised fertiliser applications, have all played a role. Some of these actions are outlined in more detail on the Current actions page.

Female dairy farm worker operating the cups in the milking shed

The improvement is occurring because inputs are being used more efficiently, resulting in an improved input:output ratio. This doesn't simply mean more from less; it means that outputs increase relative to inputs. Inputs (and emissions) may well increase, but outputs increase more.

This phenomenon is unlikely to stop. Farmers and growers constantly innovate and strive for production efficiencies simply to stay in business.

How will this affect my GHG number?

Simply improving efficiency is not guaranteed to reduce absolute emissions, but will improve emissions per unit of product. This has been of great benefit already.

If New Zealand farmers and growers had not increased their efficiency of production over the last 25 years, current emissions would have been 40% higher. Our emissions per unit of product are amongst the lowest in the world.

However, domestic and international emissions reduction targets are framed in absolute reduction terms, not reductions in emissions intensity. Reductions in emissions intensity are not simply linked to absolute emissions reductions. In New Zealand, both the dairy and beef sectors have reduced emissions intensity by a similar amount, but the dairy sector has increased its absolute emissions while the beef and sheep sector has reduced its absolute emissions. The key difference is that the dairy sector has substantially increased the amount of product produced, whereas sheep and beef product volumes have been more or less stable.

Continued improvements in efficiency are absolutely necessary to reduce emissions but are unlikely, alone, to achieve current domestic and international targets.

It's critical to start by finding out what your on-farm greenhouse gas emissions are.