Thursday, December 7, 2023

ALTERNATIVE VIEW: How to make a farmer ecstatic

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I was pleasantly surprised to read about the Government-industry agreement on agricultural emissions.
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There were no harsh words, no arrogant posturing and no big stick – just an agreement on moving forward.

The entire debate over agricultural emissions is vexed.

On one hand you have the lunatic fringe insisting agriculture is consigned to the scrap heap.

On the other you have committed farming leaders championing the industry and doing it well.

Now you have the Government saying we’re all in this together and that’s positive.

What is also positive is the reaction of farmers and farming leaders.

The debate has been constructive and forward looking. The strong message is that farmers will do their bit and I believe that.

The most positive part of the Government’s proposal is the establishment of a Government and industry governance group to spend the next five years developing systems to reduce emissions.

The result of those discussions will be a formal agreement in 2025.

I’m relatively relaxed about the 2022 review. Our leadership is focused and I believe that will lead to a similar reaction from farmers.

I strongly support the investment in research, advisory services and the estimating and benchmarking of farm emissions.

I have a similar feeling about the recognition of on-farm mitigation such as small plantings, riparian zones and natural cover. I believe that is important and overdue.

I’m not so enthused about farm plans requiring a climate module. The increase we’ve had in compliance requirements over the last eight to 10 years has been eye-watering.

On the negative side I question why we’re the only country in the world to tax farmers for their emissions.

I know New Zealand wants to be a good citizen but I heard that argument over Roger Douglas’ so-called reforms of the 1980s.

I also acknowledge the size of the agricultural emissions but we are an agricultural country. Our prosperity is based on animals and plants. Without them we’d be living in caves.

The issue is further complicated by the fact we are a low-emissions farming system now. The worst-case scenario is for us to reduce production and for that production to be moved to a country that isn’t a fraction as efficient as we are.

That won’t do anything for the global climate.

Those concerns, however, are largely balanced by the commitment by the Government to move forward in a consultative manner.

The media have been largely supportive and factual in their reporting to the extent Newshub presenter Ryan Bridge described the agreement as probably the most sensible thing the coalition has done in its two years in power. I appreciated that.

The exception to sane commentary, as you’d expect, is from that multi-million-dollar lunatic fringe group Greenpeace.

Its executive director Russel Norman wrote a piece for the local paper, which I’d have put in the cartoon section rather than on the opinion page.

I have real difficulties taking him and his bunch of angry people remotely seriously.

The Greenpeace hysteria was countered by the more measured approach of Forest and Bird’s chief executive Kevin Hague who said while the changes lack urgency they are at least a step in the right direction. 

I was heartened by the statement of Climate Change Minister James Shaw who told me the law is designed to encourage farmers to adopt low-emissions systems while not undermining food production. 

I also support the statement of the Climate Change Research Institute director Professor Dave Frame who said the Government deserves credit for listening to good scientific and policy advice and for being prepared to reject outdated approaches.

He added farming leaders also deserve credit and I certainly agree.

What we need from here is a concentration by AgResearch on science rather than administration and management, modern tools such as gene editing and more sophisticated technology transfer.

If that occurs we can do the job.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern described the Government’s plan as practical, innovative and achievable. I agree with all three.

She also left the door open for the industry to work with the Government on freshwater reform, which I was surprised but pleased to hear.

With the emissions legislation there was Damien O’Connor’s involvement. He is a dairy farmer and practical. He consults the industry and he listens.

Shaw isn’t a dairy farmer but is committed to reducing emissions, obviously in a sustainable manner.

NZ First’s agricultural spokesman Mark Patterson is also a farmer who understands the issues.

With the freshwater legislation you had David Parker, who doesn’t understand farmers, surrounding himself with a pack of anti-farmer types who didn’t consult and certainly didn’t listen.

If that is about to change and there is going to be genuine consultation as Ardern indicated then I’ll be ecstatic.

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