Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Farmers only lukewarm on deal

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Farmer and new Environment Canterbury councillor Ian Mackenzie is cautious in his enthusiasm for the Government’s about-turn on the Emissions Trading Scheme.
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In a world-first government-industry partnership the Government has backed down on taxing farmers and brokered a deal with the agricultural sector to manage and mitigate on-farm emissions.

It will avoid farmers being included in the ETS if they can commit to a new sector-led plan.

“Clearly, this is good news but it doesn’t necessarily send me skipping across the spring green paddocks with joy,” Mackenzie, an Ashburton cropping and livestock farmer, said. He was also Federated Farmers environment spokesman and a member of the Land and Water Forum.

“I am slightly underwhelmed being in the first country in the world to tax farmers on emissions, even given the five years to come.”

Mackenzie said a plan to come up with a regime that reflects options to reward farmers who are doing things right is encouraging.

“A regime that reflects on-farm activities tailored to individual farming operations is a sensible plan.

“But we will still be the only country in the world sacrificing some notion we can save the planet by growing less grass.

“I expect the reporting process on that will be quite onerous and result in another cost to farmers.”

Mackenzie  hopes industry bodies such as the Foundation for Arable Research, Beef + Lamb NZ and DairyNZ will be working on a net emission profile rather than the gross emission profile farmers are being accused of now.

“Once we can do net emission in agriculture the Government can pay us (farmers) rather than take money from us – that’s the sensible position for net benefit to agriculture.”

The deal means farmers will improve their tools for estimating and benchmarking emissions, commit to more research and development and use integrated farm plans that include a climate module.

If the industry does a good enough job and a new mechanism for pricing on-farm emissions is found, farmers won’t have to be concerned about being included in the emissions trading scheme.

But if industry is not performing that can be reversed, even as early as 2022 when the Government measures progress.

The deal takes a lot of the emotion out of the issue, Northland dairy farmer Jane Hutchings says.

The Bay of Islands farmer is chairs the Northland Farm Environment Awards and is a kiwi conservationist.

“The decision has given us the chance to work out the science behind greenhouse gas emissions and what we can do about it.

“Farmers will respond to this opportunity and there won’t be many who won’t try to reduce their emissions.

“I hope this consensus approach can be taken with water too,” she said.

Southland farmer Dean Rabbidge still has reservations about the climate change policy.

He is pleased he won’t be levied but says farmers are being constrained in the tools they can use to reduce emissions.

“We are going into a gunfight with a knife,” he says

Air NZ can offset emissions by asking ticket buyers to pay for the airline to plant trees while farmers are denied the ability to offset their emissions, at least until 2025, with tree planting.

Similarly, farmers are being outbid for land by forestry companies that can gain financially from sequestering carbon while affecting communities, landscape and biodiversity.

In contrast, restrictive laws on gene editing have not kept up with technology and limit the sector’s ability to develop new products such as low greenhouse gas emitting grasses and feed.

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