Sowell says

August 22, 2019


One size doesn’t fit all water

August 22, 2019

Federated Farmers is sending the government a strong message on water quality:

A ‘one size fits all’, inflexible and punitive regulatory regime for water quality just gets backs – and costs – up and most importantly will not work, Federated Farmers says.

“We have consistently argued that farmers will get alongside and work with sensible, practical and affordable catchment-based solutions based on an accurate assessment of the actual water quality,” Feds environment spokesperson Chris Allen says.

Labour and the Greens both tried to sell one-size for all policies before the election and every time they did support for national improved.

Environment Minister David Parker has said announcements on tighter regulations on the agricultural sector are imminent.

“We all want good, fresh water.  All of us – farmers included – need, and have effects on, water quality whether we drink it, use it for some commercial purpose or recreate in it.

“The question is how you drive water quality improvements.  There’s no doubt there is a place for rules and regulation, but they must take into account the circumstances of each catchment – soil types, land uses and community priorities to name a few,” Allen said.

What is needed and what works for one water way is not necessarily what will work and what’s needed for another.

“We must keep up the momentum with the water quality improvements we are already seeing in many catchments, not cut across this with cumbersome, draconian, one-size-fits-all regulations.”

Federated Farmers believes regional councils should be required to go through the nutrient limit setting process as per the current National Policy Statement, “with a stick approach to achieve it,” Allen said.

“Some councils haven’t done it, and that’s a problem.  If the reason is capacity issues for smaller councils, the government could help with resourcing. But we have to bear in mind that these processes are complex and take time.”

On stock exclusion, the issue is about keeping stock out of water, not mandatory and arbitrary setbacks.  A significant amount of work has already been done by farmers applying the appropriate method to achieve stock exclusion.

“In dairy districts, we should build on the Sustainable Dairying: Water Accord.  Farmers have already invested huge amounts of time and effort, resulting in outcomes including stock being excluded from waterways on 97.5% of dairy farms, and more than 99.7% of regular stock crossing points on dairy farms now having bridges or culverts. We are seeing the improvements form this sort of work coming though. For example, a recent regional council report shows that water quality in Taranaki rivers is showing long-term improvement.  Nearly half the rivers showed significant improvement, which has flowed from the stock exclusion, extensive riparian plantings farmers have done and changes to effluent disposal.

“There are now a lot of regional councils which do have good rules for stock exclusion, based on what is needed for their region.  They are fit for purpose and farmers have gone on and are living with them. Councils that don’t have rules are a minority and need to get on with the job.” 

If councils already have rules which work, they should be left to carry on with them.

Any proposed changes should be underpinned by robust cost-benefit analysis and rather than bald measurements of attributes (nitrogen, turbidity, phosphorus, etc) the catchment-based improvement programmes should be geared around the values the local community rate as the priorities – for example, can you swim in it, can fish and macroinvertebrates thrive in it, Allen said.

They should also take into account nature’s contribution to water pollution, like the nesting seagulls which foul several rivers, including the Kakanui from which we get our drinking water.

“When we do issue national environmental reports, the findings should come with the full picture.  What was the season like – hot, dry, wet…all of those things affect water quality and we need that context, not just bald numbers from a very limited number of sites.”

Farmers would also like to see consistency in approach across the sectors, and appropriate recognition of where changes that have been made, whether by urban or rural sectors, that are delivering improvements to water quality. 

Consistency would be a much needed improvement on current rules, or at least the application of them, that take a much more lenient approach to councils that allow storm water and sewerage to pollute waterways and beaches than it does to farmers.

Recognition of changes already made would help ensure those who are already doing their bit aren’t penalised to help the laggards.

Clean water is essential for human health and plays a big role in recreation.

We all have an interest in making improvements, it’s how it’s done is worrying farmers.

 


Thatcher thinks

August 21, 2019


Less meat won’t save the planet

August 21, 2019

Radical environmentalists are trying to tell us eating less meat would save the planet. But would it? AHDB Beef & Lamb Sector Strategy Director Will Jackson says it should be about balance:

The recent report produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on the impacts of global warming has reignited the crusade against eating meat, specifically on this occasion, beef. However, the real messaging of the report appears to have been twisted to suit the needs of headline writers and single-issue campaigners.

From Parliament to dinnertime chat at home, the perceived impact of livestock farming on the environment is the hot topic. The BBC’s interpretation of the report on August 6 fed the fire of anti-meat rhetoric, suggesting the report should lead viewers to question whether meat-free diets could be a long-term solution to climate change.

However, what the report actually stated was: “Balanced diets, featuring plant-based foods, such as those based on coarse grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and animal-sourced food produced in resilient, sustainable and low-GHG emission systems, present major opportunities for adaptation and mitigation while generating significant co-benefits in terms of human health.” Doesn’t sound very anti-meat does it? In fact, it backs the common sense notion that responsible livestock farming is part of the solution to climate issues, not the biggest offender.

If you take nutrient density into account meat looks even better than a lot of alternatives.

Even as reporters tried to drive an anti-meat line in the press conference, experts from the panel repeatedly pushed back to say the analysis was not suggesting people turn away from meat – or any other food stuff. This did not stop the media creating their own story with the IPCC report as yet another nail in the coffin of eating meat.

Just a couple of days later, we had the announcement that Goldsmiths University of London has withdrawn beef from their menu on campus in a stance to tackle their own negative impact on the environment. This decision was, we are led to believe, partly steered by the messaging from the IPCC report.   

How much faith do you have in a university that bases policy on misinterpreting a report rather than science?

Along with other industry bodies, AHDB has been supporting farmers to highlight a key fact missed in almost all reporting on emissions and livestock farming: meat and dairy production in the UK is among the most sustainable in the world. We have clear standards on animal welfare, increasingly, farms have right grass management systems in place, we have plenty of rain to make naturally occurring grass growing which grazing animals eat to create protein for humans with very few additional inputs needed. It is a natural cycle that also returns fertility to soils through manure. . . 

New Zealand production is even more sustainable.

There is a lack of understanding about British beef production and the distinction between it and production elsewhere in the world. With British livestock grazing in grass-based systems, the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are 2.5 times smaller than the global average. In fact, latest figures for the Committee on Climate change (CCC) acknowledge that emissions from farming amount to 9% of the national total, with 47% of that (so less than 4.5% total) from livestock digestion.

Again New Zealand is even better.

Combating environmental degradation is without doubt in everyone’s interest. However, the UK is very different to other places on earth and, because of our natural environment and the weather, remains one of the most sustainable places in the world to produce red meat. In fact, without grazing cattle and sheep, as much as 60% of agricultural land in the UK would be taken out of food production, due to the fact it is not suitable for cropping or growing other produce. This would also significantly change the cherished landscapes we have in this country which livestock help to manage efficiently and naturally.

Another recommendation in the IPCC report around livestock is to have improved manure management systems in place and to research into genetic improvement of livestock. At AHDB we are proud to support our farmers with a number of campaigns to combat both of these issues including work to neutralise slurry and Signet Breeding Services which provides genetic evaluations to livestock producers to help them identify sheep and cattle with superior breeding potential. . .

Amidst the slating of the beef industry for its environmental impact, there has also been a re-emergence of claims that red meat causes health problems,  with headlines such as ‘Red meat raises risk of breast cancer in women’ and ‘Swap beef burgers for chicken cuts’. However, the evidence continues to support the position that red meat plays a vital role in a healthy, balance diet. To help push that message, we’ve put together a number of fact-based tools with the Meat Advisory Panel (MAP) which help highlight the positive health benefits of eating red meat https://ahdb.org.uk/redmeatandhealth. There is also a Podcast available to listen to about meat and health here https://audioboom.com/posts/7319846-meat-and-health

So, the message when we are speaking to people about these challenges on welfare and red meat, is to look behind the headlines and seek out the facts. Plus, always remember, all foodstuffs have an environmental footprint of some kind and perhaps talk about the water demands of avocado farming or nut production for a change?

It should be all about balance.

Anyone familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of need understands the importance of food security.

Grass-raised free-range stock on extensive farms which are the norm here produce meat which has a much smaller environmental footprint than intensively farmed stock elsewhere and plays a very important role to play in a healthy diet.

Unfortunately this is lost in the rhetoric of people who want to save the planet without taking account of the cost to the world and the need to feed people.


Sowell says

August 20, 2019


Hug a farmer

August 20, 2019

Jill Thorp says farmers have had enough of being told they are to blame for climate change:

If you leave your car running in the garage overnight and sleep next to it, you’ll be dead in the morning. If you put five cows, five sheep and five pigs in the garage overnight and sleep next to them, you will warm and alive. We need to get real about the effects of these gases.

We also need to take the nutrient value into account. Running cars produce no nutrients, raising animals provides nutritious food. Most of New Zealand’s is exported and feeds about 40 million people, nearly 10 times the country’s population.

Not my words, but those of a New Zealand farmer, tired of being continuously blamed for global warming. I also learnt recently that depending on the time of day and year, there are 8,000 to 20,000 planes mid flight at any given moment. Yet the accusatory finger of blame for rising temperatures, extreme weather and flooding seems to be pointed firmly in the direction of farmers.

Producing food is necessary, how many of those flights could be called necessary?

I’m tired of being told we as farmers are responsible for so much damage, that it is us that must cease our environmentally destructive ways. What short memories the general public seem to have. Have we not fed a nation for generations, even during times of crisis?

Without the labours of farmers, the country would have been starved into submission during the First World War, but still the criticism rains down on us.

As hill farmers we are told to re-wet the uplands, block up the drains and gullies to prevent flooding. But when that bucket becomes full, that sponge saturated, where will the water go then? . . 

This is the view of an English farmer and her anger is shared by farmers all over the world, not least in New Zealand. We’re the only country where the government is proposing to tax emissions from farm animals and Politik warns of more to come:

Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones is warning that dairy farmers may find themselves struggling when they have to meet new Government environmental requirements likely to be unveiled within the next few weeks. . . 

{David} Parker is proposing a National Environmental Standard on freshwater which is essentially a regulation which local Councils must enforce, usually through their planning process.

Speaking in Northland a week ago he said the Government would shortly set clearer and stronger national direction for councils on freshwater standards.

The standard is expected to set nitrate discharge limits for farms.

It is expected these will be expressed in such a way as to make it all but impossible to convert non-dairy land to dairying from now on. . . 

Will these standards apply only to farming? What about the many councils with inferior storm water and sewerage systems that allow regular pollution of waterways?

Federated Farmers asks why are we only talking about farming?

New data from Statistics New Zealand makes it clear every sector of our society, including families, need to lift their game on cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

“It’s just as we’ve been saying for years on the topic of water quality, we’re all in this together and we’ll solve it by everyone doing their bit,” Federated Farmers climate change spokesperson Andrew Hoggard says.

Stats NZ’s “Environmental-economic accounts” shows that emissions from households, mainly from their transport use decisions, jumped 19.3% in the decade to 2017, outstripping both growth in the population and emissions by industry.

Farmers produce food, most of which is exported which brings many benefits to New Zealand. I doubt much of the household transport had more than a personal benefit.

The nation’s total emissions decreased by 0.9% between 2007 and 2017, with greenhouse gases emitted by agriculture dropping at a rate of 0.1% each year.  These small reductions came during a decade when agriculture’s contribution to GDP grew at a rate of 1.8%, indicating increased production efficiency.

Growth in dairy emissions was offset by reductions by sheep, beef and grain farming.

“New Zealand has an unusual emissions profile worldwide because we rely so much on our primary industries to earn our living in the world.  However, carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels, not methane from animals, is the real climate change culprit and instead of expecting farmers to do all the heavy lifting, it’s time for every New Zealander to look at their lifestyles and choices, particularly in terms of transport,” Hoggard says.

“Planting out thousands of hectares of productive farmland with pine trees isn’t a long-term and sustainable answer to the problem.”

The right tree in the right place for the right reason is a good policy.

Subsidising forestry to incentivise planting pines on productive farmland is bad policy with a high economic, environmental and social cost.

Climate alarmists and other critics of farming are quick to criticise. They conveniently overlook the positive contribution farmers make to the environment, for example nearly a quarter of New Zealand’s native vegetation is on sheep and beef farms:

A report from the University of Canterbury has revealed that 24 per cent of New Zealand’s native vegetation cover (approximately 2.8 million hectares) is estimated to be on sheep and beef farms. This is the largest amount of native vegetation present outside of public conservation land.

The report also estimates that 1.4 million hectares of New Zealand’s native forest is on sheep and beef farms and is likely playing a vital, but often unheralded role in supporting biodiversity and carbon sequestration.

Beef + Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ) CEO Sam McIvor says, “This is a great acknowledgement for our farmers and the work they’re doing as stewards of the land. I hear sheep and beef farmers talking every day about what they’re doing on farm to support biodiversity and it’s great we now have evidence to back up their passionate voices”.

The report, commissioned by B+LNZ, was undertaken by Professor David Norton from the University of Canterbury’s School of Forestry. Supported by Auckland University of Technology staff, the report used satellite imagery to assess the amount of native vegetation, focusing on native forest, occurring on sheep and beef farms in New Zealand.

“The 2.8 million hectares of native vegetation on sheep and beef farms are critical for biodiversity conservation on farms and for landscape-level biodiversity outcomes,” says Professor Norton.

This finding is particularly important in places where there is little native cover remaining, like those in lower altitudes, on more gentle slopes, and in drier regions,” says Professor Norton.

B+LNZ’s Sam McIvor says, “The environment is a cornerstone for our sector and underpins everything that we do at Beef + Lamb New Zealand. This report helps highlight not only the role sheep and beef farms currently play in contributing to New Zealand’s biodiversity, but will also help us identify opportunities to build on this as a sector”.

The report is also relevant to the proposed zero carbon legislation. While further research is needed, the 1.4 million hectares of native forest will be sequestering carbon and most of this is unlikely to be counted in the current Emissions Trading Scheme. Further research is now being undertaken to measure the potential of this native forest to sequester carbon, and this work will help inform B+LNZ’s and farmers’ input into the Zero Carbon Bill.

Along with surveying the extent of native vegetation, the report highlights that New Zealand’s sheep and beef sector is potentially unique globally in terms of the amount of native forest on its land.

The release of this report is one of the first steps for B+LNZ in implementing its environment strategy, which aims for clean freshwater around farms, for the sector to be carbon neutral by 2050, for sheep and beef farms to provide habitats that support thriving biodiversity, and to support healthy productive soils.

New Zealand farmers are recognised around the world as the most efficient producers of food but like prophets are too often not appreciated at home.

National’s Primary Industry spokesman Todd Muller is leading the charge to move from condemning farmers to celebrating them.

It is time to call out the deliberate narrative, being fuelled by this Government that our agriculture sector, and the farming families that underpin it, are climate and environmental villains.

It started over a decade ago with the dirty dairying campaign and has now widened to include all our animal food producing sectors.

These voices are no longer at the extreme of our community debate but rather at the centre of our government.

At the core of their belief is that our future world cannot sustain animal food production and we should start weaning ourselves off the animal protein diet in order to improve our health and environment. . . 

We need to move the conversation from condemnation to celebration.

The fact is that New Zealand’s farming systems are extremely efficient, and we lead the way in producing high quality products within a low emissions profile.

And we do it without subsidies.

Our environmental footprint is improving as technology is matched by our farmers’ ever willingness to adapt, change and innovate.

Our primary sector understands our reputation as a safe producer of food must be underpinned by sustainable farming practices.

They accept change is a constant, in fact global leadership in food production demands it, but surely it is reasonable to ask that the society in which we produce it to quietly applaud our efforts, rather than rushing to find an example of failure in one of our 23,000 farms and dressing it up as typical.

Tarring all farmers with the dirty brush a very few deserve is unfair and unjustified.

Of course, too much meat can be detrimental, and clearly plant-based foods are essential for a balanced diet. But the health benefits of including meat and dairy in your diet are well documented and a balanced diet must be encouraged.

A recent briefing from MPI’s Chief Science Advisor into the EAT-Lancet Commission report showed that many of the reports condemning meat and dairy production are using generalisations regarding the environmental footprint of farming, and are not taking New Zealand’s superior farming systems into consideration.

Globally, the concerns around red meat production stems from the intensive feedlot industry that can house tens of thousands of animals at each site, and require excessive amounts of water and grain to maintain their systems.

New Zealand farms are overwhelmingly pasture based. Our farming systems are not comparable in the least to a feedlot system.

It’s neither fair, nor accurate,to paint us with the brush that tars far less efficient producers in other countries.

It’s telling that we can produce enough food to feed 40 million people globally and are still the most carbon efficient producer in the world based on output of food compared to emissions produced.

A glass of New Zealand milk can be shipped to the next most efficient country (Ireland) to be consumed there, and it still has a lower carbon footprint than an equivalent Irish glass of milk.

This shows how ahead of the curve we really are. The UK Guardian responded to the recent climate change report by declaring – ‘Eat more NZ Lamb’. This seems to be lost in the ninth floor of the Beehive. . . 

New Zealand is at the forefront of efficient food production, and therefore if we’re to lower our global emissions we should be leading the way, not constraining ourselves and diminishing our output.

The world needs more food produced efficiently as we do it, not less.

One final reality check – 56 per cent of New Zealand’s exports are food.

New Zealand is a little country at the bottom of the world that needs to produce stuff to survive.

Every time we buy pharmaceuticals, cars or computers from the rest of the world we need to pay for it by selling them something. As a country with a small population but a large natural resource base, this tends to be food and materials, minerals or tourism.

This is a very important point that those who pull farming down miss. Farming isn’t something farmers do for their own sakes. They do it to produce the food the world wants and pays for which in turn pays for the imports we don’t, and often can’t, produce ourselves.

This Government has already shown a recklessness when it comes to our oil, gas and mining sectors.

Let’s not allow them to take the same approach to our farmers. Our standard of living depends on it.

A Labour government led us into the ag-sag of the 1980s. Some might argue about the way forcing us to face the real world without subsidies was done, but no good farmer wants them back because farming, and New Zealand are better without them.

That can’t be said about the current poor policies.  Farmers are deeply afraid that the anti-farming policies of this Labour-led government will create another ag-sag, the effects of which will be harsher and far longer-lasting than last century’s.

Anyone who thinks that’s okay should remember that most farmers managed to hang onto their farms during the ag-sag, it was the businesses which serviced and supplied them where jobs were lost and which often failed. The impact of that moved from the country to towns and then cities.

Farming is a handy scapegoat for people taking a political and bureaucratic response to environmental challenges rather than a scientific one but it’s still a major contributor to New Zealand’s economic and social fabric.

That’s why Proud To Be A Farmer was set up a few years ago:

[It]is a campaign aimed at raising the positive profile of agriculture, raising the morale of Farmers and reminding the rural community and the agriculture sector, and indeed New Zealand as a whole, that we have much to be proud of in the Farming industry. We tell the good stories of New Zealand Agriculture, providing much needed balance, and inspiring people to take Pride in their Farms and Farmers.

More recently, Ag Proud NZ was set up on Facebook to focus on good farming practices and the mental health of farmers.

Yesterday Jesse Mulligan interviewed the managing director of AGFIRST, James Allen, on the rising costs of farming .

In response to a question on what people could do to help, he said hug a farmer.

The vast majority of New Zealanders probably don’t know any farmers well enough to hug them, but all should look behind the emotion and false claims that are damning the industry and as Muller says, move from condemnation to celebration.

 

 


Thatcher thinks

August 19, 2019


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