Monday, April 22, 2024

ALTERNATIVE VIEW: Ammo for the anti-dairy brigade

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I was halted by a recent headline that read “Emissions from cows on dairy farms reach record levels”. I thought that was surprising as cow numbers are dropping. It was data from Statistics NZ for the years 2007 to 2019 that showed dairy emissions rose 3.18% in 2019. We were then told that “emissions created by the digestive systems of New Zealand’s 6.3 million cows are among NZ’s biggest environmental problems”.
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I was halted by a recent headline that read “Emissions from cows on dairy farms reach record levels”. I thought that was surprising as cow numbers are dropping.

It was data from Statistics NZ for the years 2007 to 2019 that showed dairy emissions rose 3.18% in 2019. We were then told that “emissions created by the digestive systems of New Zealand’s 6.3 million cows are among NZ’s biggest environmental problems”.

My response, in a word, is bollocks.

Here’s the rub. Stats NZ count all emissions from dairy farms regardless of where they come from. That’s fine as far as total emissions are concerned, but it isn’t if you’re providing ammunition to the anti-dairy brigade. What that means is that if a farmer has a dairy herd, a beef unit and some sheep on harder country, then all those emissions are counted as dairy, which they’re obviously not.

What it does is to allow some deskbound bureaucrat to publish a pile of alarmist figures that aren’t correct.

Conversely, the Ministry for the Environment, (MfE) only publishes the figures from dairy cows, which shows a decrease in emissions over the same period of .4%. I’d suggest there is a lot of difference between plus 3.8% and minus .4%. On one hand dairy gets pilloried, when on the other, using MfE figures, it is to be congratulated.

That was followed by a headline that read “NZ records the biggest drop in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions ever”. The Government reported that emissions from agriculture, forestry and fishing had dropped 1.7%. Conversely, our electricity, gas, water and waste services were up 13%, as we had to burn coal to generate electricity.

Hasn’t the primary sector done well.

The whole GHG reporting system is, as you can see, inconsistent. In addition, there are other factors that get conveniently ignored. For example, we know the ‘average’ dairy animal produces 82 kilograms of methane a year but that isn’t definitive. Individual cows vary, as do different types of feed. Logic would also suggest different breeds have different outputs as well. That makes statements like “3.18% increases” meaningless in my view.

Federated Farmers chair Andrew Hoggard says we need to look at trends not annual variations. He also believes we should be looking at the entire agricultural sector and not just part of it. I agree with both statements.

If we consider the facts, total methane emissions from all livestock have moved little over the past decade. They’re just .45% higher than they were in 2009. Putting it in perspective, road transport emissions have more than doubled between 1990 and 2019. They’ve risen 28% since 2009. Adding to that, methane emissions have to fall just .3% a year over the next 30 years to meet our commitments, whereas transport emissions must fall to zero.

Looking at it another way, in 2009 our meat and dairy export receipts were a little over $13 billion. That has since more than doubled to over $28b and that was achieved with an increase in emissions of just .45%. The sectors are to be congratulated on vastly improving NZ’s economic wellbeing, with an infinitesimal increase in GHG emissions.

In addition, as I’ve mentioned in the past, NZ is by far the most energy efficient food producer in the world when it comes to GHGs. We should be growing more animals here, not less, if we are serious about saving the planet.

Alas, it seems our achievements are massive but our acknowledgement for those achievements is verging on the non-existent.

For a start, I’m unaware of any plaudits from our politicians – of whatever colour. Come on folks, we’ve kept the country prosperous and maintained our environmental footprint. The provinces are awaiting plaudits.

The mainstream media, always quick to criticise, remain blissfully ignorant when it comes to agriculture’s considerable achievements.

I expect Greenpeace to lead the charge of the ill-informed and in the current case they didn’t disappoint.

Their spokesperson told me in all seriousness that “the dairy industry itself wants to make (the GHG figure) look a lot better than it actually is”. He added “the burning of coal for dehydration of milk powder by Fonterra is not counted as a dairy emission”. Greenpeace felt it should be.

Well matey, if you buy an EV there’s a chance your charging will be with electricity supplied from the burning of coal. Conversely, Fonterra is taking steps to reduce coal use. It is to be congratulated. 

Then we had the ubiquitous Mike Joy from Victoria University suggesting that the Government pays farmers $12b to stop dairying. He went on to claim “the dairy industry’s yearly $12 billion export earnings were effectively a government subsidy that allowed harmful land use”.

Really? 

My only advice to him would be to stay in the shallow end.

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