Canberra's failure to regulate emissions from off-road engines will hamper the growing push to make Australian agriculture carbon neutral.
That's the view of Ben Mitchell who works for global farm machinery giant CNH Industrial (Case IH and New Holland) which has just unveiled a commercial methane-powered farm tractor.
New Holland's new T6 model was launched at Germany's Agritechnica exhibition at the end of last year but was now unlikely to be market ready before 2022 because of uncertainty caused by coronavirus, he said.
Mr Mitchell is New Holland's product segment manager for mixed farming and livestock (tractors 74.5 kilowatts to 223kW) for Australia and NZ and is also responsible for the methane tractor concept down under.
He said given our "crazy" and "embarrassing" lack of emission limits on non-road engines, Australia was the "last country" New Holland would expect to put up its hand for the methane-powered tractor.
Speaking during an Exploring Beyond Diesel webinar hosted by NSW's Tocal Agricultural College, Mr Mitchell said he wanted to ensure Australia got access to the new tractor because plenty of local farmers had a more innovative approach to limiting greenhouse gas emissions than their governments.
He said the European Union had started limiting emissions from off-road diesel engines in 1996 and over the subsequent years had toughened its standards on the output of particulate matter and gases like carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and non-methane hydrocarbons.
The likes of China, Russia, India and South Africa had also adopted emission controls (minimum Tier 3) but Australia was the "odd one out" without any legislation yet 86 per cent of the energy used in agriculture was supplied by diesel, Mr Mitchell said.
Off-road engines now produced 6pc of Australia's national greenhouse gas emissions, he said.
Tractors with a mix of emission control standards ranging from Tier 2 to Stage V were now imported into Australia and farmers needed to ask about the rating of the tractor they wanted to purchase.
Mr Mitchell said the methane-powered T6 model was a game changer in terms of slashing overall emissions and was also super quiet and had low vibrations.
He said the T6's spark-ignition engine had diesel-like performance but with 30pc less fuel costs and more if farmers produced their own biogas.
New Holland released a hydrogen-powered prototype tractor in 2009 but that concept had been put on hold in favour of developing methane power.
Mr Mitchell said the T6 methane tractor would run for about three to four hours on a tank of biogas but extra tanks could be added to the machine.
No price had been calculated yet for the tractor in Australia but the cost was likely to be significantly higher than equivalent diesel models.
The engines needed 87pc purity of biomethane to operate properly.
Trials on New Holland's test farm in Italy indicated biogas produced from the waste of a 300-head dairy "should be able to run the tractor for the day", he said.
The Exploring Beyond Diesel webinar was the second in a series hosted by Tocal and the NSW Department of Primary Industries and attracted participants from all over the country.
The webinars are aimed at providing a pathway from the use of diesel on farms to renewable energy with the National Farmers Federation recently setting an aspirational target for the national economy to become carbon neutral by 2050.
In his introduction to the webinar NSW DPI energy research specialist John O'Connor said agriculture needed to "chew" on its diesel usage if the sector was going to have any impact on climate change.
Two webinar speakers also outlined progress in setting up production plants for biogas.
Founder and CEO of the Brisbane-based Utilitas Group Fiona Waterhouse said her company was working towards achieving the ambitious vision of building 100 renewable-energy biohubs in 100 regional communities around Australia by 2030.
She said there was growing impetus for renewable natural gas including bio-methane and hydrogen in Australia.
Her company's business model was focused on building biohubs in retired or stressed waste water plants to produce renewable gas, fertilisers and clean water.
Utilitas is now embarking on the re-purposing of the former Bundaberg East waste water treatment plant in Queensland into a manufacturing hub including a biogas plant using local food and beverage waste streams.
Next on the agenda was a biohub at Casino in far northern NSW.
Meanwhile, a renewable power plant is also being planned for the farming district of Mollongghip near Ballarat.
The area produces 23pc of the potatoes grown in Victoria.
Joe Finneran from the Mollongghip group said the aim was to put potato and vegetation waste, energy crops and animal manure through an anaerobic digester to produce bio-methane to produce electricity for the grid and power for irrigation pumps.
Fifteen local farmers now use 1.4 million litres of diesel for irrigation pumps over four months each year.