Rural round-up

October 14, 2019

Get on with it – Neal Wallace and Colin Williscroft:

Politicians might be slow acting on climate change but retailers and consumers who buy New Zealand produce aren’t and they expect Kiwi farmers to reduce their carbon footprint, special agricultural trade envoy Mike Petersen says.

He urges food producers to stop arguing about details and start reducing carbon emissions to preserve demand in lucrative markets.

“It is very real in-market,” he said.

Peterson said “If people think this is being dreamed up by NZ politicians to get at NZ farmers then you need to think again.”

It is being driven by those who buy our food.

“Companies and consumers are driving climate change. . . 

Number of natives under one billions trees anyone’s guess -Eloise Gibson:

How many of the one billion trees planted in the next decade will be native species? Government tree planting agency Te Uru Rakau has clarified that it can’t hazard an estimate. 

The Government’s tree planting agency, Te Uru Rakau, says it can’t estimate what proportion of the one billion trees programme will be native species, saying a previous figure it gave to Newsroom was meant to be purely “illustrative”.

The illustrative figure was used to calculate the estimated climate benefit from the tree scheme, which Te Uru Rakau has put at 384 million tonnes of carbon dioxide over the trees’ lifetimes. . . 

Bunds offer phosphorus solution – Richard Rennie:

Capturing phosphate in water spilling off farm catchments has been made easier thanks to work done by a Rotorua farmer group and a doctoral student who have developed detainment bunds on trial properties.

A field day later this month gives farmers the chance to look at work that has largely been under the radar but offers a practical, farmer-focused solution to improving water quality. Richard Rennie spoke to the group’s project manager John Paterson.

While nitrogen mitigation has played on the minds of most regional councils and many farmers, phosphorus losses are also required, under the Government’s latest water quality rules, to be measured and curtailed.  . . 

Exotic breeds offer genetic diversity – Yvonne O”Hara:

Anieka and Nick Templer like a bit of variety in their dairy herd, adding panda-eyed, triple-cross Montbeliarde, Normande, Fleckvieh and Aussie Reds to their mix.

They are are 50/50 sharemilkers on 230ha near Balfour, with 630 cows, and they are targeting 500kgMS/cow and 330,000kgMS production this season. Their herd includes 35 pedigree Ayrshires.

The 2015 Southland/Otago Farm Manager of the Year winners have daughter Maycie (5) and employ two Filipino staff: Emman Orendain and David Lupante.

Mrs Templer grew up on a dairy farm and has always been interested in the more unusual cattle breeds. . . 

‘If we lose these communities we won’t get them back‘ :

AgForce Queensland chief executive Michael Guerin says “if we lose these communities, we won’t get them back”, as “unprecedented” drought conditions continue to affect Australian farmers.

Hundreds of drought-stricken farmers have reportedly stopped receiving payments in the past two years, through a government assistance program, after having reached the four-year limit.

Under the allowance, more than 1,300 households are given $489 a fortnight.

“This federal government is working with us, trying to work with communities that are in incredible trouble” Mr Guerin told Sky News host Paul Murray. . . 

The latest flip-flop on red meat uses best science in place of best guesses – Nina Teicholz:

Eggs are bad; eggs are good. Fat is bad; fat is good. Meat is bad; meat is… OK?

That last food flip-flop made big headlines last week. It was a “remarkable turnabout,” “jarring,” “stunning.” How, it was asked, could seemingly bedrock nutrition advice turn on a dime?

The answer is that many of the nation’s official nutrition recommendations — including the idea that red meat is a killer — have been based on a type of weak science that experts have unfortunately become accustomed to relying upon. Now that iffy science is being questioned. At stake are deeply entrenched ideas about healthy eating and trustworthy nutrition guidelines, and with many scientists invested professionally, and even financially, in the status quo, the fight over the science won’t be pretty.

Red meat is a particularly contentious topic because people have such strong objections to eating meat for a variety of reasons: the environment, animal rights and even religion (Seventh-day Adventists advise against it). . . .


Bad science scapegoats meat

September 7, 2019

Bad science is to blame for scapegoating meat:

Meat has been getting a bad rap in some parts of society, being blamed for everything from increased cancer to greenhouse gas emissions by environmental and commercial influencers. This has led to Professor Frédéric Leroy, Professor of Food Science and biotechnology at Vrije Universiteit, Brussels, to concluded that meat has effectively become a scapegoat for commercial and environmental advocates, much of which was based on bad science. Speaking at a lecture at the University of Auckland, Professor Leroy discussed how this scapegoating came about and whether it is justified. . . 

The anti-farming rhetoric is not based on the good practices followed in New Zealand where cattle, deer and sheep are raised on extensive farms, ranging free.

The anti-meat rhetoric overlooks the important part moderate amounts of beef, lamb and venison play in a healthy diet.


A win for science

August 19, 2019

The USA’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is taking action to provide accurate risk information to consumers and to stop false labeling on products:

EPA is issuing guidance to registrants of glyphosate to ensure clarity on labeling of the chemical on their products. EPA will no longer approve product labels claiming glyphosate is known to cause cancer – a false claim that does not meet the labeling requirements of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). The State of California’s much criticized Proposition 65 has led to misleading labeling requirements for products, like glyphosate, because it misinforms the public about the risks they are facing. This action will ensure consumers have correct information, and is based on EPA’s comprehensive evaluation of glyphosate.

“It is irresponsible to require labels on products that are inaccurate when EPA knows the product does not pose a cancer risk. We will not allow California’s flawed program to dictate federal policy,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “It is critical that federal regulatory agencies like EPA relay to consumers accurate, scientific based information about risks that pesticides may pose to them. EPA’s notification to glyphosate registrants is an important step to ensuring the information shared with the public on a federal pesticide label is correct and not misleading.” 

In April, EPA took the next step in the review process for glyphosate. EPA found – as it has before – that glyphosate is not a carcinogen, and there are no risks to public health when glyphosate is used in accordance with its current label. These scientific findings are consistent with the conclusions of science reviews by many other countries and other federal agencies. . .

This is a win for science and the environment and a reminder that users must be responsible for their own actions in following instructions on the label.

Glysophate is an important tool in minimum tillage which reduces fuel usage and protects soil from erosion.


Science when it suits again

August 16, 2019

The government is ignoring its own scientific advice over setting methane reduction targets:

Advice to the Government from MPI’s officials shows that the Government’s proposed methane reduction targets go well beyond the science of what is needed for New Zealand to meet its 1.5⁰C Paris Agreement commitments and was purely a political decision made in Cabinet.

“Official’s advice validates the arguments we have been making that methane does not need to reduce by the amount proposed by the Government in the Zero Carbon Bill in order to limit warming to no more than 1.5⁰C,” says Beef + Lamb New Zealand’s CEO Sam McIvor.

Mr McIvor’s comments are also echoed by DairyNZ’s CEO Dr Tim Mackle.

“The agricultural sector has consistently said that the Government is asking farmers to do more than what’s required, and more than what’s being asked by other sectors of the economy, and this has been confirmed by the Government’s own advice”, says Dr Mackle.

“We are willing to play our part to address climate change and want to have a transparent and science based discussion about what that should be.”

The government can’t ask us to accept the science on climate change then ignore it in responding.

While the Government referenced the IPCC report, in applying the target for a global reduction in methane emissions to New Zealand, they have conveniently omitted the IPCC’s caveat that makes clear these global targets shouldn’t simply be slapped on individual countries.

It is also ignoring the Paris Accord which stipulates that cliamte change mitigation should not be at the expense of food production.

“The combined effect of the excessive methane targets and net zero target for nitrous oxide, which even go beyond the IPCC’s advice for this gas, means that New Zealand is effectively aiming to go below 1.5 degrees and by doing so, letting other countries off the hook,” says Mr McIvor.

The Government is even being inconsistent in its own statements in saying it has relied on IPCC advice, with parliamentary written questions showing it did not seek any specific advice from the IPCC in doing this.  Instead the Government has cherry picked the numbers it wanted and gone with the highest ranges it could find for methane, as well as going beyond what the IPCC recommended for nitrous oxide.

Federated Farmers’ National Vice President Andrew Hoggard says that the advice from MPI vindicates the sector’s position that the Government has opted for a political target on methane rather than a scientific one.

“When the IPCC explicitly states their global methane reduction targets shouldn’t be used as national targets, and Article 2 of the Paris Agreement requires countries to set targets in a manner that doesn’t threaten food production and to take into account different national circumstances, it’s disappointing that the Government has opted to pursue a political target agreed at Cabinet to make it feel good on the world stage regardless of its lack of scientific backing or the disastrous consequences it could have on New Zealand’s food producers,” says Mr Hoggard.

B+LNZ, DairyNZ, and Federated Farmers, while all having made individual submissions on the Zero Carbon Bill, are united in their view that the proposed 24-47 percent target is too high and are encouraging the Government to take a science-based approach that reflects the fact that methane only needs to reduce by a small amount each year in order to contribute no additional warming.

The government is proposing unrealistic targets. Even trying to meet them will come at a high cost, in both economic and social terms, with no environmental gain.

In doing so it is using only the science that suits it again.

There is a better way – setting realistic targets and working with agricultural groups to drive real behaviour change on farm:

Sector organisations have put forward an alternative Primary Sector Climate Change Commitment – He Waka Eke Noa – to build an enduring farm-level emission reduction framework to help the rural sector reduce its footprint.

“We want to play our part and take action. That’s why we have put forward a credible five-year work plan with clear and measurable actions, outcomes and timeframes” Dr Mackle says.  

“Our proposed plan is a collective initiative across multiple agricultural sectors, and includes rolling out Farm Environment Plans for all farms by 2025 to ensure every farmer knows their emissions footprint, where on farm those emissions are coming from, and what they can do to manage them”.

Having reliable data is important so that a farmer can make decisions and trade-offs factoring in resilience, profitability, and all the business decisions that need to be weighed up.

“We are asking the Government to partner with the agricultural sector to develop and deliver targeted programmes of action and coordinate efforts to reduce emissions. We strongly believe that working in partnership is the best approach to deliver real change” Dr Mackle added.

“DairyNZ does not support a levy on farmers in the ETS at processor level because it won’t drive the behaviour change to reduce emissions.

“It will take money out of farmers pockets at a time when it would be better invested on-farm to prepare for and start the process of managing emissions.

“Safeguarding the environment and maintaining a sustainable and competitive dairy sector is very important to our farmers, customers, and consumers. 

“Farmers care about the environment and are continuously refining their farm systems to improve environmental outcomes.“The dairy sector is committed to playing our part in reducing greenhouse gas emissions alongside the rest of the New Zealand, but policy responses need to be fair and they need to drive the right behaviours” Dr Mackle concluded.

DairyNZ’s submission on Action on agricultural emissions can be found here.

The government has a choice – it can set realistic targets for methane reduction and work with the primary sector to achieve sustainable on-farm changes; or it can ignore the science and impose unrealistic targets providing neither the tools nor incentives farmers need to make a positive difference to their practices and the environment.


Science not unsubstantiated aspiration

August 9, 2019

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says better land management can contribute to tackling climate change but is not the only solution.

. . . Land must remain productive to maintain food security as the population increases and the negative impacts of climate change on vegetation increase. This means there are limits to the contribution of land to addressing climate change, for instance through the cultivation of energy crops and afforestation. It also takes time for trees and soils to store carbon effectively. Bioenergy needs to be carefully managed to avoid risks to food security, biodiversity and land degradation. Desirable outcomes will depend on locally appropriate policies and governance systems. . .

Greenpeace must have missed the bit about food security and locally appropriate solutions because it immediately called for New Zealand’s dairy heard to be halved which, Politik points out, would cost the country approximately $8.3 billion in lost exports.

On top of that, there would be job losses on farm and in the downstream businesses, irreversible depopulation of rural communities and global emissions would increase as less efficient farmers in other countries ramped up production to meet the demand for food we’d no longer be producing.

Greenpeace would be more aptly named Redpeace to reflect its politics. Their call ignores the fact that what is being called for is largely what New Zealand farmers are already doing, and are striving to do better.

It comes on the eve of Federated Farmers submission to the select committee on the Zero Carbon Bill where they called for honesty on what farmers are being asked to do:

Adopt a methane target that science tells us will ensure no additional impact on global warming, not an unsubstantiated aspiration that will cause lasting damage to rural communities and the standard of living of all New Zealanders.

That was the message from Federated Farmers to the Select Committee hearing on the Zero Carbon Bill this morning.

“Federated Farmers agrees with the current text in the Bill on the need to achieve net zero carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide in the NZ agricultural industry by 2050,” Feds climate change spokesperson Andrew Hoggard said.

“This ambitious support is in spite of the industry being heavily reliant on reliable energy supply and internal combustion powered vehicles for transport, both of which produce carbon dioxide, and despite the task of agriculture reducing nitrous oxide to net zero being incredibly challenging.”

Farmers “embrace this challenge” because those two gases are long-lived and build up in the atmosphere, so New Zealand – and the world – needs to get those gases to net zero as quickly as possible, Hoggard said. But methane, which is belched by livestock, is a short-lived gas that produces almost no additional warming and flows in and out of the atmosphere if emitted at a constant rate.

The science says NZ agriculture needs to reduce methane by about 0.3% a year, or about 10% by 2050, to have no additional warming effect – or in other words a zero carbon equivalent. Yet a 10% target has been set for 2030 – much earlier than for any other sector of society – and up to 47% methane reductions by 2050.

Hoggard told the Select Committee that appears to be “because it seems easier to tell people to consume less animal-based protein than it is to cut back on trips to Bali.

“If that is the case then let’s be open and honest and admit the agriculture sector is being asked to do more than its share.”

Farmers are in a minority, it’s far easier to pick on them than to ask people to make real and meaningful sacrifices.

The Minister has challenged those disagreeing with the proposed targets to explain why he shouldn’t follow the advice of the IPCC. Federated Farmers provided three main reasons:

– a key piece of advice in the relevant IPCC’s 2018 report was not to use the numbers from that report as precise national targets,

– the report also recommended a much lower target for nitrous oxide but Federated Farmers is ignoring that as it is a long-lived gas.

– finally, the report modelled numerous pathways that all achieved the 1.5 degree warming target. In some of those pathways biogenic methane actually increased. Economists pondered those pathways to work out the least cost to the globe of achieving the target, not the least cost to New Zealand.

“This report was clearly not designed to be copy and pasted into our domestic legislation. Modelling on what is the least cost to the economy for New Zealand to do its part hasn’t been done,” Hoggard said.

Answering Select Committee member questions, Hoggard suggested there was a strong case for rewarding or incentivising farmers to go beyond 10% by 2050 methane cuts. Methane reductions beyond 10% would actually have a cooling effect on the planet and in effect was the same as planting trees to sequester carbon, a practice rewarded through the ETS.

But planting trees with a 30-year life before harvest is only a temporary solution, and blanketing productive farmland with pines kills off jobs, spending and inhabitants that rural communities depend on.

The science, peer reviewed and provided by Environment Commissioner Simon Upton, says forestry should not be used to offset fossil fuel emissions but could be used for shorter-lived gases like methane.

However, if farmers achieved the 10% methane reductions that ensure no additional warming, and are rewarded for striving for additional reductions, there is incentive to invest in additional emissions reduction technology.

“That keeps the rural community going, and reduces global warming – a win/win situation.”

The proposed policy is lose-lose.

The only way for farmers to meet unrealistic targets would be to reduce stock.

That would have devastating economic and social consequences and no environmental gain.

If the government expect us to accept the science on climate change, it must accept the science too, all the science including that on methane, and not just the bits it finds convenient.

It must also accept the Paris Accord’s stipulation that climate change mitigation should not come at the expense of food production.


Ag part of the tech boom

July 5, 2019

Politik discusses Knowledge Wave Mark Two which seeks to boost the tech sector and quotes Helen Clark from the original Knowledge Wave conference:

Our export profile resembles that of developing countries, not that of a developed one.

Our export profile is unique among developed countries for the volume and value of primary produce and the large part that plays in our economy.

But the quote, and some policies from this government, send the message that there’s something wrong with that.

They ignore the fact that primary production does so well in New Zealand not just because of our natural advantages – the climate and soils – but because of the investment in, and application of, research and technology.

There is some comfort in David Parker’s statement:

“The agritech sector has been chosen as a key focus because it brings together two of New Zealand’s key competitive advantages – our expertise in agriculture and horticulture with our well-educated workforce,” he said.

This focus is already being undermined by government policy which incentivises forestry over food production.

Economic growth,  a broader based export economy and technological innovation are all worthy goals but none should be achieved by dragging down or devaluing primary production.

Our export profile does resemble that of a third world country, but primary production in New Zealand is very much a first-world business and already part of the tech boom.

When climate change could threaten food security, our ability to produce highly nutritious food in a very efficient manner is of even more importance.

 

 


Rural round-up

June 29, 2019

Success from the ground up – Luke Chivers:

Future Post is leading change in on-farm sustainability with its new environmentally friendly fence post that won the top Agricultural Innovation award at this year’s Fieldays.

“It came as a huge surprise,” Future Post founder Jerome Wenzlick said.

“We weren’t expecting to win, that’s for sure.” . .

Here’s my beef with the entitled and pampered fat cats – Phil Quin:

Whereas I’m not exactly persuaded by James Cameron and Sir Peter Jackson that New Zealand can or should go meat-free, I’m pretty sure we could manage without three more Avatar films.

“What we need,” Cameron told us last week, “is a nice transition to a meatless or relatively meatless world in 20 or 30 years.”

Even for a filmmaker better known for special effects than human-seeming dialogue, this is a clunker. 

To be fair, though, when you’ve made a couple of billion dollars from blue aliens on a fictitious planet, and when you have come to regard New Zealand as your personal movie set, what’s so hard about replacing dairy and meat with plant-based alternatives?   . . .

Grain sector sees bold future – Annette Scott:

New Zealand is behind other countries in developing and investing in plant-based food ingredients and it’s time to bite the bullet, Plant Research managing director Adrian Russell says.

Agriculture and the world food supply are in the biggest revolution in history, Russell told the Grain and Seed Industry Forum at Lincoln.

“There’s incredibly exciting times to get into as an industry, things are changing and we need to change with it.

“The rise of the flexitarian consuming less meat is predicted to quadruple global pea protein demand by 2025.  . .

Rural boards changing – Brent Melville:

Rural New Zealand boardrooms, once the exclusive enclave of the old boys’ club, are becoming more diversified.

It is not happening quickly. But it is happening.

Women account for only about one in four board members of the large primary sector co-operatives. Two are on the 11-strong Fonterra board and they comprise two of seven on the Silver Fern Farms board, two of nine on the Board of Alliance Farmers Produce and three of 10 on the Farmlands board. . . 

New job helps with title aspirations – Sally Brooker:

Alan Harvey’s new job is proving great preparation for his tilt at the Young Farmer of the Year title.

The Aorangi region representative in the grand final has moved from being an agricultural consultant for Agri Planz to operations manager for North Otago dairy farming company Borst Holdings Ltd.

After winning the Aorangi competition in February, Mr Harvey said he would have to work on his knowledge of the dairy sector before the national final in Hawke’s Bay on July 4 to 6. So he is filling the gaps in his knowledge while enjoying the variety his job brings. . . 

Egg Industry introduces first industry-led trace programme:

A locally developed, industry-led source assurance programme will set the bar for consumers by enabling them to trace their eggs back to the farm they came from to verify that the eggs they want to buy are the eggs in the carton, says New Zealand’s Egg Producers Federation (EPF).

“True source assurance comes from authenticity across multiple platforms, and for that reason, we see this as the most ambitious primary industry-led programme available,” says EPF Executive Director, Michael Brooks. . . 

The slow welcome death of GMO panic – Abe Greenwald:

In the United States, the public panic about the dangers of genetically modified foods is fading fast. This is an amazing—and rare—triumph of reason and science over public hysteria and political posturing.

On Monday, for example, the New York Times published an article by Knuvul Sheikh detailing recent advances in genetically modified crops without offering a single word about potential health dangers or environmental concerns. In fact, it seems there’s a rebranding effort on the left to hype GMO foods as a vital response to climate change.


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