Kowbucha New Zealand cow
Calves are fed a probiotic supplement called "Kowbucha," which has been shown to reduce the methane that they produce, as part of a trial at a Massey University's research farm in Palmerston North, New Zealand, September 7, 2022. Image Credit: Reuters

Wellington: The New Zealand government on Tuesday confirmed plans to price agricultural long-lived gases and biogenic methane that mainly comes from cow and sheep burps separately, in a plan that farm groups have raised concerns about.

The government on Tuesday released its proposed plan on agricultural emissions pricing, which when introduced in 2025 will make New Zealand, a large agricultural exporter, the first country to have farmers pay for emissions from livestock.

The proposed plan has been criticised by farming groups worried about how the proposal accounts for on-farm forestry and what can be offset against emissions. They say increased costs will encourage farmers to turn beef and sheep farms into forestry.

Kowbucha "reduces" cow burps
Palmerston North, New Zealand: More than a dozen calves wait at a research farm in New Zealand to be fed Kowbucha, a punnily named probiotic that studies show reduces burps -- or methane emissions.

The Kowbucha powder is blended into a milk-like drink fed to the calves at the Massey University farm in Palmerston North.

The regular feeds are part of a series of trials being carried out by New Zealand dairy giant Fonterra since 2021 to gauge how effective the probiotic is in reducing methane emissions.

New Zealand has pledged to cut biogenic methane emissions by 10% on 2017 levels by 2030 and by up to 47% by 2050.

The "true eureka moment" came when early trials suggested that calves emit up to 20% less methane when they receive the probiotic supplement, said Shalome Bassett, principal scientist at Fonterra Research and Development Centre.

"Probiotics are great because they're a really natural solution," Bassett told Reuters. "Whatever we do, it has to be something that's easy for the farmer to use, has to be cost effective, and we have to ensure that it's good for the cow and doesn't have any effect on the milk."

New Zealand has about 10 million cattle and 26 million sheep. Nearly half its total greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture, mainly methane, but agricultural emissions have previously been exempted from the country's trading scheme.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told reporters Tuesday's proposal would make New Zealand farmers not only the best in the world but the best for the world. That had the potential to unlock an emerging and significant price premium for climate friendly agricultural products, she added.

The plan proposes prices for long-lived gases such as carbon dioxide be set annually and be based on domestic emission prices for other sectors while a biogenic methane levy price would be priced by the Government based on advice from the Climate Commission.

The proposal will provide financial incentives for farmers to use technology that reduces sheep and cow burps and money farmers pay for their emissions will be reinvested in the sector.

However, Andrew Morrison, chairman of farm lobby group Beef + Lamb New Zealand said while farmers know they have to do their bit to address climate change, the amount of farm land in forestry needed to be recognised.

The proposal now goes to consultation and will need to be passed into law before being put into force.