Rural round-up

August 21, 2019

Output record delights new manager – Sally Rae:

Alliance Group recently marked the 2019 season at its Mataura plant in Southland by breaking a beef processing record. Business and Rural Editor Sally Rae talks to plant manager Melonie Nagel about breaking records — and life in New Zealand.

When cattle beast number 150,216 went through the Mataura plant last week, a photograph was taken to record the occasion.

The vibe in the factory – having beaten the previous record by more than 8000 – was “wonderful”, plant manager Melonie Nagel said.

It was an opportunity for staff to gather and also recognition that without a team effort – involving both Mataura employees and the farmers supplying the stock – it never would have happened, Ms Nagel said. . .

Banks want farm billions back – Nigel Stirling:

Floating farm mortgage rates and some fixed rates fell after the Reserve Bank slashed the Official Cash Rate but not all farmers are benefiting.

The country’s largest rural lender, ANZ, said it will cut its agri variable base rate by 40 basis points from today and its fixed base rates by between 20 and 30 basis points.

Other banks also signalled cuts to rural lending rates after the Reserve Bank moved to head off a slowing economy by lopping 50 basis points off the benchmark interest rate to a record low 1%. . .

Farmers furious at Australian animal rights activists publishing addresses and location on map – Gerald Piddock:

Federated Farmers are furious that an Australian animal rights group have begun listing descriptions and addresses of Southland farms on a website map, claiming it could encourage illegal activity by activists on farms.

The map, created by activist group Aussie Farms lists 150-200 farms, both drystock and dairy across the Southland region.

National president Katie Milne said it was hugely worrying that it could be the start of a more extreme form of animal activism in New Zealand, which in Australia and Europe had seen people break into farms, releasing and stealing stock and chain themselves to farm machinery. . . 

Making a difference:

John Ladley will go down in history as the person who took a broken Doug Avery to that life-changing lucerne workshop where he first met Professor Derrick Moot.

Over the years, John has watched with interest – and immense satisfaction – as Doug has transformed his business and life, raised awareness of mental health issues in rural communities and written a best-selling book.

“It has made me very aware of the influence you can have on one person’s life.”

For John, helping others become the best version of themselves is what gets him out of bed in the morning and as B+LNZ’s South Island General Manager, John sums his job up in just three words – “it’s all about people.” . .

Dairy product prices for manufacturers up 8.7 percent :

Prices received by manufacturers of butter, cheese, and milk powder rose 8.7 percent in the June 2019 quarter compared with the March 2019 quarter, after falls in the previous two quarters, Stats NZ said today.

Dairy product manufacturers received higher prices for products such as butter, cheese, and milk powder in the June 2019 quarter. Together, output prices for this group of products increased 8.7 percent from the previous quarter, the biggest rise in over two years. Prices rose by 16 percent in the March 2017 quarter. . . 

Cultured lab meat may make climate change worse – Matt McGrath:

Growing meat in the laboratory may do more damage to the climate in the long run than meat from cattle, say scientists.

Researchers are looking for alternatives to traditional meat because farming animals is helping to drive up global temperatures.

However, meat grown in the lab may make matters worse in some circumstances.

Researchers say it depends on how the energy to make the lab meat is produced. . . 


Rural round-up

August 20, 2019

Billion Trees policy ‘spells end of farming’ – Steve Carle:

You can make almost double just by shutting up your farm and not worrying about production in forestry if sheep and beef farmers convert to carbon sink farming, says Makairo farmer Lincoln Grant.

“It spells the end of farming in the Tararua District at this stage but its all dependent upon Government policy,” he says. “You’re at the mercy of it. The disturbing thing about selling New Zealand farmland to foreign countries to plant trees to claim carbon credits is that they will take the profit from the carbon credits back offshore. They will leave us with absolutely nothing.

“The medium to long-term effect for New Zealand is just dire from that. With stumps and slash, 150 years of fencing and tracking will be completely lost — it will be all ruined. To start from scratch with a pine forest it would never be economic to turn it back into a sheep and beef farm again. . .

NZ’s agriculture GHG policy working against us – John Jackson:

New Zealand’s Action on Agricultural emissions places us all in a very uncomfortable situation.

I’m no earth or space scientist, nor do I hold a particular view on who or what is responsible for global warming.

Given that most statistics indicate a warming change is happening, we should consider this a given.

So whether global warming is indeed anthropogenic or just a naturally occurring phenomenon, our approach to stabilising the environment in which we live should be the same. . .

Strong wool deserves a future – Nick Brown:

With growing concerns over climate change, why are we still using nylon pile carpets, when wool is much better for the environment?, writes Nick Brown, Taranaki Federated Farmers Meat & Wool Chairman.

As a new parent, travelling with a baby in Europe, the first thing I do when I go anywhere is scope the joint for the softest, safest surface for my child’s immersion on the bacteria-laden floors.

Floors never used to interest me. For most of us, we don’t take much notice of what we are walking on, be it wood tiles, lino, or synthetic or woollen carpet.

But people are becoming more aware, and are demanding transparency of what’s in their products. It won’t be long until they turn their attention to what’s beneath their feet.

Emissions profile for every farm – Sudesh Kissun:

All Fonterra farms will get a unique report about their biological emissions within 15 months.

The co-op says it will provide emissions profiles of its 10,000 supplier farms using data the farmers provide annually.

The profiles will be similar to nitrogen reports provided to Fonterra farmers for the past six seasons. They will be free and farmers will not be required to provide extra information or have a farm audit.

The dairy co-op believes on farm reporting will help show its leadership and progress against external targets. . .

Vegan food’s sustainability claims need to give the full picture – Maartje Sevenster & Brad Ridoutt:

The IPCC special report, Climate Change and Land, released last night, has found a third of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions come from the “land”: largely farming, food production, land clearing and deforestation.

Sustainable farming is a major focus of the report, as plants and soil can potentially hold huge amounts of carbon. But it’s incredibly difficult as a consumer to work out the overall footprint of individual products, because they don’t take these considerations into account.

Two vegan brands have published reports on the environmental footprint of their burgers. Impossible Foods claims its burger requires 87% less water and 96% less land, and produces 89% fewer greenhouse-gas emissions than a beef version. Additionally, it would contribute 92% less aquatic pollutants. . . .

The floating farm produces, processes and distributes dairy products in Rotterdam:

Dutch architecture company goldsmith has designed the world’s first floating farm in rotterdam (see previous coverage here and here) as an agricultural building based on nautical principles. the farm, which produces, processes and distributes dairy products in the city, is aimed at bringing producer and consumer closer together, and adding to shorter supply chains and awareness of urban residents.

Through the process of scale enlargement, and the automation of activities, the harbor of rotterdam shifts to the west of the city, and the border between harbor and city shifts accordingly,’ explains goldsmith. ‘consequently, the decline of traditional trade activities make room for residential – and other urban developments. the harbor economy with its corresponding trading dynamics is disappearing from the basins; the original contrast between the relatively calm residential landscape and the lively center point for trade is revolving 180 degrees; the basins of the merwehaven threaten to become open and empty spaces in a densifying urban landscape of the merwe-vierhaven (m4h) area. with the floating farm dairy these beautiful, but slowly orphaned spaces, find meaning in a rapidly changing environment through the introduction of urban farming.’ . . 


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.

 

 


Countering the methane myth

August 19, 2019

David Clark, Federated Farmers’ Mid Canterbury chair is fed up with the methane myth:

As a farmer I am fed up with being vilified and our industry accused of being the primary contributor to climate change in New Zealand.

He’s not alone. I haven’t encountered such strength of feeling among farmers since the ag-sag of the 1980s.

The myth is that agricultural gases, primarily methane, make up 48.1 per cent of this country’s emissions profile. That is nothing more than a politically and socially convenient half-truth/untruth.

So here are established, scientific facts pertinent to the Zero Carbon Bill and the Emissions Trading Scheme:

• A pre-existing and stable level of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere is required to maintain our temperature levels and is essential to life on earth.

• The Paris Accord calls for countries to take steps to limit global warming to 2 degC and preferably 1.5 degC above pre-Industrial temperatures.

The Paris Accord also stipulates that climate change mitigation should not come at the expense of food production.

• NZ has set a target of Zero Carbon by 2050 – no mandated reduction in gross carbon emission, just an aspiration to offset by forestry plantings so that carbon emitted will be in balance with carbon sequestered.

• Total methane emissions in NZ have increased 6.2 per cent from 1990 to 2017 (they have been declining since 2006). Agricultural production has doubled in this time.

• The ZCB has an aspiration of reducing methane by up to 47 per cent by 2050.

• Methane is a short-lived gas that originated from CO2 absorbed by the growing grass and when belched by livestock rapidly breaks down into CO2 again to complete the cycle. No additional carbon enters the atmosphere.

Fossil fuel carbon has not been circulating in the atmosphere for thousands or millions of years, but once burnt will circulate in the atmosphere for centuries to come, with constant additional warming effect.

• The key objective is to limit any further warming.

Clark says representing methane on the same graph as fossil carbon and stating that agricultural gases are 48.1 per cent of our emissions is simply wrong and does not recognise the cyclical nature of methane.

He then shows why:

Methane is a short lived gas, known as a “flow gas” which rapidly breaks down compared to carbon, which is known as a “stocks gas”.

So let’s represent methane as water and carbon as small stones. I have a bucket that is the atmosphere and the level inside the bucket is the global warming effect.

I have a centimetre of water in the bucket, which has a small hole in the bottom of it.

I start tipping cupfuls of water into the bucket. So long as I do not tip in water faster than it drains from the hole, the level does not increase.

It would be wrong to count the number of cupfuls put into the bucket, only correct to pay attention to the change in level. The number of cupfuls has absolutely no relationship to the level in the bucket.

If I take the same bucket and start dropping small stones into it, none of which fit out the hole, every stone is additional and the bucket gradually fills up. The total number of stones added has a direct correlation to the number of stones in the bucket.

Methane and carbon are water and stones. So long as stock numbers remain static, or more correctly the feed fed to livestock remains static, the emission of methane today replaces the methane that degraded today. The cycle stays in balance.

Every gram of carbon emitted from a power station, factory, car, aeroplane or any other part of our life adds to all of the carbon previously emitted from all sources.

The only way of reducing that carbon is to effectively bury it by absorption into soil by plants.

Our Government need to stop telling the methane myth and stop counting the water and the stones as if they were equal. They are not.

Net methane makes up only a very small portion of NZ’s total emissions. Our farmers are being asked to reduce methane emissions way beyond the equivalent of “Zero Carbon” and are being vilified in the process.

The current fixation on methane is a dangerous, politically convenient distraction taking the focus of the enormous task of eliminating our reliance on carbon for our modern existence.

Not only is it dangerous and a political distraction, the government’s determination to impose unrealistic methane reduction targets on farmers would at the very best have no impact on the global methane emissions, and almost certainly worsen them because New Zealand accounts for such a small percentage of the world’s farm stock.

New Zealand has about 6.5m dairy cows and 3.6m beef cattle.

That’s a lot of cattle when you compare it with the human population of fewer than 5 million people.

But how does that compare with other countries?

India has 305,000,000 cattle – 30.44% of the world total.

Brazil has 232,350 – 23.19%.

China has 96,850 – 9.6%

The USA has 94,399,00 – 9.42%

The EU has 88,445,000 – 8.83%

Argentina has 53,765,000 – 5.37%

Australia has 25,500,000 – 2.55%

Russia has 18,380,000 – 1.83%

Mexico has 16,584,000 – 1.66%

Turkey has 14,500,000 – 1.45%

Uruguay has 11,754,000 – 1.17%

Canada has 11,625,000 – 1.16%

New Zealand has 10,082,000 – 1.01%

We have a lot of sheep and cattle per head of population but that’s only because we have so few heads.

This puts into perspective the calls from radical and not so radical environmentalists for New Zealand to cull its dairy herd.

Half of 1.01% is not very much in global terms.

When it is better environmentally for the people in Ireland, the country with the second-most efficient dairy production to drink milk from New Zealand, the most efficient producers, the aim ought to be to produce more milk here, not to cut production.

The case for cuts doesn’t add up in economic, social or environmental terms, nor is it based on science.


Rural round-up

August 16, 2019

Climate experts flat out lying – Andrew Stewart:

An open letter to our Government and the farming leaders of New Zealand.

For the first time in my farming career, which spans 16 years as an owner and a lifetime on the same farm, I find myself doubting whether I would consider encouraging my two daughters into the agricultural profession. 

This negativity has been created by proposed regulations regarding climate change and how we as farmers will have to cope with it and ultimately pay for it. 

Luckily, my children are still young, at seven and four, and I can only hope I still have the time to help rectify this situation before it is too late.

I am writing this as a response to the bombardment of information that has spewed forth in the past couple of weeks regarding climate change obligations in agriculture.  . . 

Bankers circling? Sudesh Kissun:

Farmers are urging banks to take a long term view of their businesses, now under growing pressure to improve their balance sheets.

Federated Farmers dairy chairman Chris Lewis says some farmers feel they are facing “a banking crisis” because of relentless pressure from banks.

While ultimately farmers must ‘own’ their individual financial positions, Lewis says banks need to go easy.

“They must take the long term view that dairying is a profitable business,” he told Rural News. . . 

Kiwi Climatology: Land of the Long White Clods – Walter Starck:

The science, technology and economics relevant to the possibility of a catastrophic impact on global climate from use of fossil fuels is vast and complex. Vanishingly few persons can spend the time necessary to begin to appreciate the uncertainties, conflicting information and outright misinformation being promulgated.  Unfortunately, we are taught and expected to have an opinion on everything no matter how little we actually know about it and the climate change meme has proliferated into an epidemic conviction of which the chattering classes in particular appear to have little or no resistance.

As professional opinion leaders, politicians seem to be especially susceptible, to the point of engaging in what in effect have become competitive displays of ignorance about climate change. A current example is the recent initiative of the New Zealand government to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  For a start, NZ accounts for about 0.1 per cent (i.e. one-thousandth) of global emissions. Over 80 per cent of their electrical power comes from renewable energy, mainly hydro and geothermal. Their per capita CO2 emissions are among the lowest in the developed world and natural uptakes make them a net CO2 sink. . .

Tougher animal system rolled out after critical report

Changes to New Zealand’s animal tracking system are starting to be rolled out after a report released last year identified a raft of issues with the scheme.

Lax compliance with the National Animal Identification and Tracing, or NAIT, system by some farmers has been blamed for the spread of the cattle disease Mycoplasma bovis.

Officials complained they sometimes could not find out which animals had been moved or which calves had been born to which cow. . .

Boffins race stink bug’s spread – Richard Rennie:

The spectacular, soaring peaks around Trento on the edge of the Dolomites in northern Italy shelter a glacial valley that has become the fruit bowl of Europe over the past 50 years. But the region is under siege from advancing hordes of brown marmorated stink bugs threatening growers’ futures. The bug’s speed in establishing and its effect on crops provide a chilling insight to what it could inflict in New Zealand should it ever become established here. Farmers Weekly journalist Richard Rennie visited the region to learn more about the bug’s effect and efforts to deal with it.

New Zealand and Italian researchers at the Foundazione Edmund Mach Research Centre near Trento in Italy are on the front line trying to halt the advance of the brown marmorated stink bug rapidly wreaking havoc on crops. 

“This year we have trapped 10 times the number of bugs we did last year and it was only identified here in 2016,” centre head Professor Claudio Ioriatti said.

“The first reports of crop damage came quickly the following year in 2017 and now growers are having to spray heavily to try and slow the bug’s advance.” . . .

More people to shun plant-based ‘milk’ thanks to campaign :

More than one in ten people will now shun plant-based ‘milk’ substitutes following a major dairy campaign highlighting the benefits of real milk.

11% more young parents are certain to buy dairy products according to research carried out after the second year of AHDB and Dairy UK’s campaign.

The study showed an 8% fall in the number of people cutting their dairy consumption now or in the future.

It also showed an 11% reduction in intentions to consume plant-based substitutes. . .

‘Farmers are being bullied over misplaced anti-meat focus of climate change debate’, union leader says – Ben Barnett:

Farmers are being made to feel “isolated” and “terrorised” because of a deeply flawed approach to tackling climate change, according to the industry’s union leader.

Minette Batters has accused a “metropolitan elite” of bullying farmers by focusing on meat-eating alone to tackle climate change.

The president of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), posting on social media, said some sections of the media were “destroying lives” by their portrayal of farming’s contribution to climate change. . . 


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.


Farmers gloomier with good reason

August 13, 2019

Federated Farmers’ latest Farm Confidence Survey shows why farmers are gloomier:

Climate change policy and the ETS has topped the list of farmers’ biggest concerns for the first time since 2010, according to Federated Farmers’ latest Farm Confidence Survey.

Nearly a quarter of the 1,432 farmers who responded to the July survey said it was their No 1 worry. The second greatest concern was regulation and compliance costs (19%), followed by debt, interest and banks (10%).

“That result is hardly surprising, given analysis coming through that significant numbers of dairy and sheep and beef farms will be uneconomic if the government continues to pursue methane reduction targets that are far more stringent than are necessary to ensure there is no additional global warming,” Federated Farmers economics spokesperson Andrew Hoggard says.

“That’s coupled with concern that the targets, and government incentives for forestry, is driving blanket planting of pines on productive farmland, with huge long-term detriment to rural communities.”

Pertinent to the concerns about production losses to meet climate change targets, and costs if agriculture is put in the ETS, is that only 55% of farmers said their businesses were currently making a profit (similar to the January survey, 56%). The proportion of farms making a loss increased slightly by 2 points to 11.3%. And looking ahead, slightly more farmers expect their profitability to worsen than improve.

The July survey, conducted by Research First, found that the proportion of farmers who consider current general economic conditions to be good (24.9%) has decreased slightly over the last six months. The proportion who consider conditions to be bad remains lower, but not by much (21.3%).

Looking forward, the survey found the lowest level of confidence in the economy since July 2009, in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis.

“On that front, we’re no different to the gloom being expressed by the wider business community,” Hoggard says. “For us there is particular concern about the global uncertainty and instability arising from fallout from Brexit and US-China tensions and how that will impact on our key markets and export returns.”

All regions expect farm production to increase over the coming 12 months but they are mostly less optimistic than six months ago, with large falls in expectations for Auckland-Northland and Taranaki-Manawatu. Slightly more farmers expect to increase their spending rather than reduce it over the coming 12 months but this is also down on January’s survey.

And farmers continue to find it hard, if not harder than ever, to find skilled and motivated staff.

Climate change policy in the Zero Carbon Bill is based on emotion and politics rather than science; ignores the Paris Accord’s stipulation that mitigation shouldn’t come at the expense of food production; and will come at a high economic, social and environmental cost.

Regulation and compliance costs are rising.

Interest rates are low but banks are putting a lot of pressure on farmers to reduce debt.

Dairy and arable farms, orchards and market gardens have been struggling for good staff for years, sheep and beef farms are also having problems now.

Add to that the concerns shared by the wider business community and farmers have good reason to be gloomier.

The full survey report is here.


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