The wailing and gnashing of teeth about New Zealand’s response to climate change is generally motivated by politics rather than environmental concerns.
Anyone who thinks that beggaring our economy to reduce greenhouse gases will make any significant impact on the climate doesn’t understand the numbers.
Our emissions are tiny by world standards and most come from animals which provide protein, the bulk of which is exported.
If we reduce our contribution to feeding the world, farmers in other countries will fill the gap and almost certainly do so in a less efficient and environmentally sustainable way than we do it here.
While the wailers and gnashers are getting political, others, like Federated Farmers’ President Bruce Wills, are being practical.
As the climate has always changed there are negatives, yes, but many positives too. A more Mediterranean climate may bring new pests and diseases but it will also see off many cold climate ailments too.
Take Northland, which by the end of this century, could end up with a climate similar to that found in southern Queensland.
For livestock farmers that will see what they farm and even genetic lines tailored to regional climates.
It may mean commercial crops of soybean, sorghum and potentially rice may become possible.
From reading I even understand everything from mangoes to Thai galangalginger is found in Northland. Among these and other tropical fruit could be the next ‘Chinese gooseberry’ breakthrough. It is not beyond the realm of fantasy that even Oil Palm could one day become viable.
My point is that farming will continue but its nature will evolve and adapt. We must be open-minded about the possibilities and ensure we have all the tools in place to turn challenges into opportunities.
Take the engine room of any farm; its pasture and crops. We are already seeing a renaissance in deep-rooted Lucerne championed by farmer Doug Avery.
You can add to that drought tolerant crops of chicory, plantain and not to mention deciduous trees like poplars and willows. New cultivars of drought-resistant pasture will also come forward as we add new tools to our toolbox.
Our farm pastures are also a significant if unheralded environmental tool.
They are arguably our best means of keeping nutrients on-farm and out of water yet it needs three things to flourish; high soil temperatures, long sunshine hours and water. . .
He points out we have tow of these three, but need more of the third.
The Opuha Dam has effectively drought-proofed a large swathe of South Canterbury.
Opuha has been lauded by Labour and National politicians. Even Dr Russel Norman seemed impressed when Federated Farmers hosted him there several years ago. It provides water for farms, an environment for aquatic life, a place to recreate and minimum flows to the formerly summer dry Opihi River.
Economically, it has exceeded all expectations but it also opened back in 1998 and remains our sole example of modern water storage.
For intensive cropping, dairy and horticulture, the benefits of irrigation are self-evident. Yet much irrigation is dependent upon groundwater or river takes and both are affected by drought or just summer.
Capturing and storing water during winter frees irrigators from river takes and groundwater.
Yet water storage is also a breakthrough for drystock farming too. Irrigating even 20 hectares of a farm becomes a pasture generator reducing that climatic lottery we currently have.
According to the ANZ Bank the current drought has already cost New Zealand over a billion dollars. Irrigation NZ estimates this sum, if invested in water storage projects, could future proof Canterbury for the next 100 years.
Like Irrigation NZ, Federated believes the solution lies in a combination of regional and on-farm water storage.
Farmers are smart adaptive people but as our climate will change, isn’t it smarter for public policy to enable the solutions we will all need to meet it?
Is it a coincidence that the same people who don’t think we’re doing enough to combat climate change are often the ones who are likely to oppose water storage which is one of the best ways to adapt to it?
Or is it proof that they are more focussed on political problems than practical solutions?