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Estimates: Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (Climate Change)

Estimates & Committees
Lee Rhiannon 13 Feb 2012

Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee

Estimates hearings, 13 February 2012

Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry

  • Senator Joe Ludwig, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry
  • Dr Conall O’Connell, Secretary
  • Mr Tom Aldred, First Assistant Secretary, Climate Change
  • Ms Julie Gaglia, Acting Assistant Secretary, Climate Change Policy Branch

Full transcript available here

Senator RHIANNON: This is for climate change. Dr O’Connell, considering the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation has identified that livestock production is responsible for approximately 18 per cent of the total greenhouse gas emissions worldwide and the CSIRO has found that over 30 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions produced in Australia can be attributed to animal industries, what plans does DAFF have to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from these sources?

Ms Gaglia: We have an extensive research program looking at reducing emissions in livestock. It commenced under the Climate Change Research Program. We will continue to do research under the Filling the Research Gap, because the government recognises not only methane from livestock but also nitrous oxide emissions as being significant contributors to climate change. When these activities and abatement activities are developed through the research there will be options and opportunities for farmers to participate in the Carbon Farming Initiative.

Senator RHIANNON: As well as those research initiatives that you have just spoken about, does DAFF have plans to assist animal and agricultural industries to employ free range or organic systems of production, or are there any other methods to shift away from intensive animal industries?

Senator Ludwig: Is that in relation to this section in terms of carbon abatement? Are you saying that free range equals less carbon abatement? Is that the import of your question?

Senator RHIANNON: I am asking the question because it is a new area where there is considerable research. I was interested in the department’s and possibly your response, Minister. I am certainly not putting myself forward as an expert. I am just asking the questions.

Senator Ludwig: I understand.

Mr Aldred: The research activities that are undertaken under the programs managed by the department will provide research, and we will also support demonstration arrangements for those. If your question is going to whether there are support programs to transition industries into those sorts of production systems, then the answer is, no.

Senator RHIANNON: The answer is, no. So there is no work being done on assisting farmers to move away from intensive animal production?

Mr Aldred: In the sense of doing those sorts of things with a focus on climate change and emissions, no.

Senator RHIANNON: I will explore that further. I understand that the emphasis is on climate change and the reduction in emissions, but those figures that I gave from the FAO and the CSIRO are quite considerable. That is why I was specifically asking the question: is work being done around the animal intensive industries with a view not just to reducing the emissions within those industries but possibly reducing the dominance of those industries?

Mr Aldred: Reduction in the dominance or to shift away from those sorts of reduction systems?

Senator RHIANNON: Yes, a reduction. Intensive farming, as I understand it, in recent years has been increasing.

Mr Aldred: I am not aware of any programs that are focused at structurally changing the nature of the production systems in those industries.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you.

Dr O'Connell: We might be able to help. I am not sure that your question does not have as a premise that extensive agriculture is less intense or produces less carbon emissions than intensive agriculture. I think the issue is perhaps how well it can be controlled. Perhaps Ms Gaglia can talk about methane capture as being one of the areas people are looking at.

Ms Gaglia: There are a number of practices that we are looking at in relation to livestock. As the secretary mentioned, we have some projects in relation to the capture of methane in piggeries and other institutions like abattoirs, but when it comes to the livestock emissions themselves most of the research we are undertaking is looking at where you are going to get the most significant reductions. It comes down to what you feed the livestock and the way that they digest that feed more so than the actual practice. The bulk of the research that we are doing now is into how we can reduce the actual methane coming out of each individual animal rather than the number of animals that you have on a paddock.

Senator RHIANNON: Are you able to share with the committee a list of those research projects that you are undertaking and where they are funded from?

Ms Gaglia: There is a document on our website that lists all of the projects and the results that we have ascertained so far over the entire program.

Senator RHIANNON: Can you share that link with us?

Senator Ludwig: We will provide it.

Ms Gaglia: Yes, we can provide that.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you for explaining the research. I am also interested in what policy mechanism you are planning to use to drive this change. I am asking the question in the context that the issue of agriculture was omitted from the carbon tax. I am interested in the policy mechanism that is the umbrella under which this work sits.

Ms Gaglia: The key policy initiative is the Carbon Farming Initiative, which is a carbon offset market. The carbon offset market that Australia has established covers the broadest range of agricultural and forestry related activities of any offset market in the world, so that is seen as the key driver to bring about this kind of abatement.

Senator RHIANNON: Including within the animal industries, as well?

Ms Gaglia: Yes.

Senator RHIANNON: I notice that in DAFF’s budget one of your program objectives—maybe this is to yourself, Dr O’Connell, or maybe the minister—is to support the development of the National Food Plan. I was interested in how DAFF’s input into this plan will take into account the disproportionate contribution of animal agriculture to climate change, considering you also have the program objective of tackling climate change. I am interested in bringing together how you resolve that.

Dr O'Connell: The National Food Plan is handled through the Agricultural Productivity division, which will be coming along next and we can probably talk about that then if that helps.

Senator RHIANNON: I will come back to that then.

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