New Zealand has to walk a tightrope as it tries to increase food production while also improving emissions efficiency and achieving its economic and social priorities, a Rabobank white paper says.
Released at the Primary Industries Summit in Wellington, the paper underscores that sustainability policies cannot be pursued at the expense of society and the economy.
Rabobank CEO Todd Charteris said NZ’s role would be best achieved by finding an appropriate balance between reducing agricultural sector emissions and contributing to global food security and rural community health and wellbeing.
He pointed to the impact of infrastructure damage on communities, and ecosystem threat ultimately affecting income and livelihoods.
“One of the most notable, and sensitive of these ecosystems is the supply and demand of food products, as a marginal under-supply can result in significant price increases. An upset in the balance of this system often affects the poorest of the world’s population first and the most,” Charteris said.
He said NZ’s attempts to balance food security and emissions are particularly challenging due to agriculture’s significant contribution to the country’s overall emissions profile, as well as the oversized contribution the sector makes to global food supply.
For every person NZ farmers feed domestically, they feed seven internationally.
The report notes the impact of assorted overseas policies to try to mitigate agricultural emissions.
The European Union’s Green Deal and Farm to Fork strategy are estimated to risk seeing 20% of the continent’s grains and oil seeds lost as fertiliser and chemical use is reduced, and producers are compelled to go to 25% organic production.
Canada’s efforts to cut emissions from fertiliser by 30% by 2030 did not take productivity losses into account and are still being formalised.
The white paper identifies 10 key building blocks to help achieve emissions reductions while also ensuring food security, good economic prospects and rural prosperity.
That rests on building a pathway that supports the industry’s emission efficiency transition. It is a core challenge over coming decades and will require certainty and rules allowing farmers to further grow and invest.
Charteris said a move from a climate of uncertainty and fear is necessary to kickstart investments needed for that transition.
The impact of the uncertainty is reflected in declining farmer confidence.
Since 2003 Rabobank has worked with an independent research group to track farmer confidence. Overall rural confidence was deeply negative in the first quarter of 2023, but showed a slight improvement on the exceptionally deep low of late 2022.
The paper notes that concerns over farmers’ mental health have been raised even at cabinet level in recent years.
Public and private partnership support would accelerate large scale emissions reduction incoming years, he said.
“Rural Proofing”, the drive by the minister of agriculture to better manage the personal and community-wide impacts of government policies, has included informing farmers on areas that need improvement, implementing the best processes and equipment to deal with them, and getting necessary data to a place that all stakeholders can access.
Any change also needs to be incentivised rather than forced.
“Intrinsic changes are always the best. However, in the case of emission reductions, the
speed and magnitude of change is too big to be achieved through this kind of intrinsic
change alone,” Charteris said.
“Change needs to be incentivised.”
Other key building blocks include a reduction of food waste and building an environment that is more conducive to research and development.