Soil carbon could be a washout

February 5, 2010

It was a desire for a better business not fears of global warming which prompted Australia farmer Cam McKellar to start producing humified compost which captures carbon and stores it in the soil.

“It’s about increasing the fertility of the soil, improving yields and producing better-quality food,” says Mr McKellar, who runs a 1200ha corn and mixed-crop farm at Spring Ridge, 100km southwest of Tamworth in northeast NSW.

However, farmers in Australia and New Zealand are asking if soil carbon could be used to offset Kyoto liabilities.

The cost and difficulty of measuring soil carbon counts against it and there is another catch to claiming credits for soil carbon .

If there was a flood and the soil got washed away farmers would face a huge carbon liability on top of the costs associated with the flood.


ETS defacto tax on food

August 18, 2009

Australian retailers are warning that the Emissions Trading Scheme is a defacto tax on food which will push prices up by four to seven percent.

Australian Retailers Association executive director Russell Zimmerman said the ETS would lead to a sharp increase in grocery shelf prices as costs increased at every stage of the production and distribution process.

“It’s going to be a high cost to the consumer – the food manufacturer gets an ETS charge, then there’s delivery, and the retailers use refrigeration and lighting, and the cost of that is all going to be handed on,” Mr Zimmerman said. “Retail is a very competitive business. There’s not a lot of margin in grocery retailing, so these costs can’t be absorbed.”

That’s in a country which isn’t planning to include agriculture in its ETS. The increase in the price of food will be even greater here because agriculture is included in our Kyoto commitment.

The figure mentioned is for the direct costs. There is no mention of the indirect costs involved in, for example, the negotiations about such inane matters as to where trees are planted.

One of the very silly things agreed to under the Kyoto Protocol was that harvesting trees won’t attract a carbon tax if the land from which they were taken is replanted in trees but it will if the replacement trees are planted anywhere else.

New Zealand is now trying to get agreement that the tax exempt status will be granted for replanting whether or not it is on the same land from which the original trees were harvested.

You’d think someone with a little common sense could run an eye over the agreement, highlight clauses like this and get the matter sorted without having to waste time – not to mention expend all the carbon on travel – on negotiations.


Kyoto surplus by accident

April 15, 2009

New Zealand appears to have exceeded its Kyoto target, but Climate Change Minister Nick Smith is treating that news with caution.

New Zealand is now expected to exceed its Kyoto target by 9.6 million tonnes –

a surplus worth an estimated $241 million, Climate Change Minister Nick Smith announced today. 

 

Dr Smith today released the 2009 Net Position Report for the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol (2008-2012). The results for 2009 are in contrast to 2008 which projected a deficit of 21.7 million tonnes (an estimated cost of $546 million).

 

The main reasons for the change are the drop in agriculture emissions caused by the drought in 2007/08 and improved information on carbon storage in forests. 

 

“It is good news that we may exceed our Kyoto target but we need to be cautious of these projections given their volatility.

 

“It is difficult for the Government to make sound climate change policy when projections have ranged from a 55 million tonne surplus in 2002 to a 64 million tonne deficit in 2006 and when the figures over the past year have varied by 31 million tonnes equivalent to $787 million.

 

It’s not just difficult to make sound climate change policy, it’s impossible when Kyoto commitments aren’t about reducing globabl emissions and what’s best for the environment. They’re based on politics and bureaucracy not environmental best-practice.

 The significant changes in projections include:

  • Deforestation emissions down by 9.6 million tonnes (Mt) due to new data showing smaller trees being felled in land use changes
  • Post-1989 (Kyoto) forests absorbing 8.2Mt more of carbon due to the trees not being thinned and being planted on better soils
  • Drought conditions causing significant reductions of 10.3Mt in animal emissions due to fewer cattle, sheep and deer
  • More accurate data on nitrous oxide agricultural emissions resulting in a 3.8Mt improvement

 

“There has been no significant change in emissions from the energy, transport and industrial sectors. There has been a minor reduction due to the recession in transport emissions but this has been offset by the reduction in the fuel price since the 2008 peak and the effect of the previous Government’s decision to defer entry to the ETS two years.

 

“These changes in projections highlight how difficult it is to measure natural processes like farm animal and forestry emissions which demonstrate the unique Kyoto challenges that New Zealand has.”

 

Difficult is an understatement. The reduction in emissions wasn’t deliberate it was because of the drought which reinforces the problem we face in trying to reduce animal emissions without destroying our economy.

 

Whether or not you think the climate is changing and that people and animals are causing it, the wide variations in predictions must cause concern.

 

We’ve gone from projections for a large surplus to a larger deficit and now back to a possible, but temporary surplus and all seem to be a result of accident not design.

 


Don’t panic

February 27, 2009

 The creation of non-jobs and anything which hints at protectionism  are to be avoided at all costs, Don Nicolson says in Federated Farmers ‘ submission to the job summit.

New Zealand is the poster country for being an open dynamic economy. If any company or organisation proposes protectionist measures, we farmers will tell them to go and read some history books.

(Anyone sqwaking about Sawzi losing the Defence Department contract  please take note and if you don’t understand why, read what Macdoctor  and Poneke have to say about the issue.)
More good advice from Feds:
 “A key part of what Federated Farmers recommends is not to panic.

“We are still selling goods overseas and are now seeing some price stabilisation. We’re actually pretty upbeat about New Zealand’s economic prospects as there’s no direct protein in a silicon chip. Everyone needs food.

 Yet again the importance of agriculture in our economy should be a good thing. People still have to eat and we are very good at producing more food than we need ourselves. People in the overseas markets we sell to might have to give up luxuries but they will still have to eat. 

“Some gentle steps rather than a series of knockout schemes must be the starting point. This is an argument for treading gently and not thinking big.

If there is one good thing about the deficits we’re facing as a country it’s that we can’t afford to think big.

Feds’ submission made four main points:

1. Don’t trip up the economy and cost more jobs by including agriculture in the Emisisons Trading Scheme.

Agriculture should never have been included in our Kyoto commitment and including it in our ETS would cripple the economy while doing nothing for the environment.

2. Include water storeage in the infrastructure package.

For each 1000ha irrigated, the Ministry of Economic Development’s study of the Opuha Dam near Fairlie in South Canterbury, confirmed that some $7.7 million is injected into the local community, 30 jobs were created and household incomes boosted by $1.2 million.

We have seen similar gains from irrigation in North Otago with economic, social and environmental gains.

Feds includes tree planting on marginal land and rural broadband under infrastructure.

It would be difficult to argue against planting trees and I second  PM of NZ  and Farmgirl with their complaints abour rural internet service.

3. Improving skills and getting people into agriculture.

One of the eye openers about dairying is the poor literacy and numeracy of so many job applicants.

4. Concentrate R&D funding on agriculture.

When money is scarce it should be directed at areas of natural advantage and our biggest one is agriculture.

If nothing more than these points are acted on as a result of today’s job summit it will have been very worthwhile.


NZ poorly served by Kyoto negotiators

November 20, 2008

The Emissions Trading Scheme is seriously flawed  and must be deferred engineer John de Beuger says.

There isn’t much low-hanging fruit left to pick when it comes to reducing our carbon footprint.

We already have a high percentage of hydro renewables, and because our animals are free-range and grass fed (not corn fed in feed lots), our agriculture is close to world-best practice.

We can certainly improve in transport, but this will cost.

With no other country even thinking about carbon footprints during the current financial crisis, why are we so hellbent on cutting our throats? This country was very badly served by our Kyoto negotiators.

Take two simple examples – exporting logs and mowing the lawn.

If two ships, one with imported oil and the other with export logs, pass each other outside the Port of Tauranga, under current Kyoto rules we get dinged for both – because we are going to burn the oil, and we have cut down the trees.

Compare this with an oil tanker passing a coal exporter outside Sydney harbour.

Under current Kyoto rules, Australia doesn’t get dinged for exporting coal – which is the main global warming culprit.

Meanwhile New Zealand cops it for exporting plantation forestry trees, which are good news for the planet.

To show how truly stupid the Kyoto Protocol is for food-exporting countries like New Zealand, agricultural consultant Robin Grieve has calculated that mowing a lawn with a motor mower is six times better for the environment than letting sheep graze it. (The environmental impact of sheep, as defined by Kyoto, is 19.65kg carbon-equivalent compared with a lawn mower’s 3.107kg of carbon – i.e., a sheep is 6.3 times worse for the environment than a lawn mower.)

It gets worse. The methane emissions of livestock have been seriously misrepresented because, over time, pasture grass is carbon neutral – whether it is eaten or not.

Grass grows in the spring and summer, and dies back in the autumn after flowering.

If it isn’t eaten, then depending on the decay process, it releases the CO2 it absorbed during its growth back into the atmosphere.

If cattle eat the grass, and live for several years before being slaughtered, they are acting like trees in the sense of temporarily storing carbon that would have been emitted by decay if they hadn’t eaten the grass.

During digestion, a cow discharges methane equivalent to one-third of the carbon consumed, while the other two-thirds is stored in their body until they end up on a hook at the works.

Cows are thus temporary carbon sinks – a simple truth that one might have thought was self-evident to the Kyoto negotiators.

Carbon credits should accrue to grass-fed meat producers, not penalties.

But no, we are dinged for the methane cattle emit because our negotiators misunderstood something as simple as the carbon life cycle of grass.

Under current rules we will be penalised for our agriculture – as well as achieving an own goal by exporting our energy-efficient production to Asia, where the predominant source of energy is coal.

If other countries are not prepared to sacrifice their livelihoods, why should we? In Canada, Stephen Harper has just been re-elected after reneging on Canada’s Kyoto Protocol commitment over synthetic crude oil.

Extracting the dirty oil from Alberta’s tar sands leaves a footprint three times greater than normal crude.

Similarly, in the wake of the global credit crunch, any resolve in Europe to make meaningful emission reductions is crumbling by the day.

Although the European Union ETS only covers about 40% of European emissions, they are fearful that the cost of emission reductions will force energy-intensive industry to exit Europe and set up in parts of the world where there will be no carbon charge.

Never mind about China – they will cheat anyway.

The rules affecting agriculture under the Kyoto Protocol are wrong.

With the agricultural sector being so important to our economy, it is clear that Kyoto 2 seriously needs sorting out.

That’s why deferment of the current ETS is essential.

Act New Zealand’s insistence on setting up a special select committee to investigate the mess is correct.

We can’t afford to get it wrong.

As a small player in this fraught business, it is ridiculous for New Zealand to be a leader – rather than a follower.

It would be lunacy for John Key to adopt a scheme that is so obviously flawed, and shoots us in the foot for no environmental benefit whatsoever.

Agriculture is one of the most important sectors in our economy yet we’re the only country to include it in our Kyoto commitment. The looming economic crisis may well help us because because if other countries put their economies before their Kyoto commitments, many of which will do little or nothing to improve the environment, we will be able to renegotiate our commitments too without being penalised.

We’ve been very poorly served by past negotiations but we can take some comfort from the knowledge that the new Minister for Climate Change negotiations, Tim Groser, has both the will and skills to ensure we’re better served in negotiations from now.


Feds Chief Not Out To Win Friends

June 26, 2008

When I was a child, every meal began with grace. I suspect relatively few families do that now and even if they did I don’t think they’d be taking any notice of Federated Farmers out-going President  Charlie Pederson:

“Folks in the city need us more than they know,” he told the federation’s annual conference in Christchurch today.

“Three times a day as they sit down for a meal every New Zealander should say “thank God for the producers”.

And he suggested than when people sat down after a meal, in front of their large flat screen TV, they should also thank God for exporters “because without them this proud little nation would be the largest third world country in the South Pacific”.

He’s right about the importance of producers and exporters but this isn’t the way to get support from those who fail to appreciate that.

Mr Pedersen, a dairy farmer, railed against the “cruelty” of Resource Management Act, which regulates environmental standards for use of land, air and water.

The RMA needs some attention – but it’s not because it regulates air, soil and water, it’s the way it does it which is the problem.

“Food producers are on the brink of feeling unloved and unwanted in this country,” he said, speaking in the wake of complaints that the nation’s 10,000 dairy farmers are being attacked for their intensive style of agriculture.

And public comments like his introductory ones are part of the reason for this.

Mr Pedersen said today there were untruthful people who would brand farmers as “profit-driven people, unconcerned about our environmental footprint”.

“Much of the contempt we face as food producers is falsely based,” he said. He particularly criticised the “hypocrisy” of consumers living in unsustainable cities who demanded farmers accept responsibility for the environmental effects of production.

He’s right that much of the criticism is not based on fact and there is an element of both ignorance and hypocricy from critics. We have only one world, we all need to look after it and it’s best to address the logs in our own eyes before worrying about the specks in other people’s.

Another approach would be for consumers to share the cost of Kyoto and a better environment by paying an extra tax on all food.

“The proceeds of this tax could be used to help New Zealand food producers to buy carbon credits and compensate for property loss under the RMA,” suggested Mr Pedersen.

“Such a tax would have the double benefit of keeping New Zealand food producers viable and still producing in New Zealand, and allowing all New Zealanders to share the responsibility”.

No thanks – we’ve already got too many taxes and compliance costs and a subsidy by any other name is still a really bad idea.


Methane breakthrough but practical application 10 years away

June 2, 2008

NZ scientists  have made a discovery which could lead to a reduction in the amount of gas farm animals produce.

The scientists from the Pastoral Greenhouse Gas Research Consortium have mapped the genetic sequence of a microbe, which produces methane from the rumen of cattle and sheep.

Methane produced by farm animals accounts for 32 per cent of New Zealand’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

The consortium believed it was still five years away from providing practical solutions to reduce methane emissions, and another 10 years away from seeing cost effective changes integrated into farm systems and widely adopted by farmers.

There is no point taxing farmers, or anyone else, to comply with our Kyoto obligations if it will be a decade before anything can be done to reduce the emissions. Money would be far better spent on research like this than what amounts to a fine for a natural process.


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