NZ dairy co-op Fonterra announces target for on-farm climate emissions

‘The co-op’s approach will be to work alongside farmers, not against them, as we collectively make progress towards our target’

Agri co-op Fonterra has announced an on-farm emissions reduction target, and released a Climate Roadmap and voluntary Climate-related Disclosure report.

The New Zealand dairy giant has pledged a 30% intensity reduction in on-farm emissions by 2030 (from a 2018 baseline) which, it says, will “further reduce the emissions profile of its products”. 

Fonterra says 86% of its emissions come from on-farm, and the new target is seeking to reduce emissions intensity by tonne of FPCM (fat and protein corrected milk). 

CEO Miles Hurrell told the co-op’s annual meeting that New Zealand farmers are some of the most emissions-efficient suppliers of dairy at scale, but work needs to continue to maintain this position.

“There is a lot of activity to reduce emissions across other markets,” he added, “and the co-op needs to keep making progress to make sure it doesn’t fall behind. 

“As a dairy partner to many of the world’s leading food companies, we’re responding to growing sustainability ambitions from our customers and financial institutions, along with increasing market access, legal and reporting obligations. 

“Our collective efforts to reduce emissions – from on farm, across our operations and by our R&D teams – will help future proof Fonterra, supporting our ambition to be a long-term sustainable co-op for generations to come.

“At the other end of the supply chain, as a large part of our customers’ Scope 3 emissions, today’s announcement further demonstrates to them that we are committed to being their sustainable dairy partner of choice both now, and into the future.” 

Fonterra says this new target will be achieved through a number of ways:

  • 7% reduction through farming best practice such as feed quality and improving herd performance
  • 7% reduction through novel technologies that we’re developing through AgriZeroNZ, the joint venture between agribusiness and government working to find a solution to methane, and other partnerships 
  • 8% reduction through carbon removals from existing and new vegetation
  • 8% from historical land-use change conversions to dairy.

Co-op chair Peter McBride said that the reduction target would affect each farm differently. “There is significant variation within and across farming systems when it comes to emissions intensity. We are confident that we can make solid progress towards our target by working together and sharing information farmer-to-farmer.

“There’s no one solution to reducing on-farm emissions. It will require a combination of sharing best farming practices and technology to reduce emissions – it’s both our biggest opportunity and our biggest challenge.”

He added: “We have deep empathy for the challenges our farmers are already dealing with. The co-op’s approach will be to work alongside farmers, not against them, as we collectively make progress towards our target, including investing in methane reduction technologies.” 

Fonterra says the target comes after a year of discussions with farmers about why it is needed and how the co-op will work with them to achieve it. It says the methodology will continue to evolve alongside the science that supports the changes. 

Meanwhile, the co-op’s Climate Roadmap outlines the actions it will take towards its 2030 targets and ambition to be net zero by 2050.

And the co-op has released its first Climate-related Disclosure report, which identifies risks and opportunities related to climate and helps the co-operative plan for the future. 

New Zealand is the first country in the world to pass a law introducing mandatory climate-related risk reporting, taking force next year for around 200 New Zealand companies, including Fonterra. 

The announcement follows several years of pressure on the global meat and dairy industry over methane and other climate emissions, which has seen Fonterra criticised alongside other agri giants such as US co-op Dairy Farmers of America.

However, responding to Fonterra’s latest plans, Greenpeace Aotearoa campaigner Christine Rose said: “Fonterra wants us to accept that it can cut emissions through mythical technofixes and offsetting with grass and scattered trees,” adding that given the scale of industry pollution and impacts of climate change, in her view Fonterra’s plans are “woefully insufficient”.

Rose believes Fonterra’s use of a 2018 baseline for its targets is “unambitious and inappropriate” because this is when the dairy herd was near its peak, and takes issue with what she sees as the organisation’s reliance on unproven “novel solutions”. She dismisses carbon capture from grass and trees as “creative accounting”. 

“It’s one thing to announce on-farm emissions reduction targets in response to market demands, but without concrete action, targets are meaningless,” Rose added.

“To really address Fonterra’s massive pollution problem, the dairy giant needs to shift to farming in a way that works with, rather than against nature. That means fewer cows and a phase-out of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser, and more plant-based, regenerative, organic agriculture.”