Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Get on with it

Neal Wallace
Politicians might be slow acting on climate change but retailers and consumers who buy New Zealand produce aren’t and they expect Kiwi farmers to reduce their carbon footprint, special agricultural trade envoy Mike Petersen says.
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He urges food producers to stop arguing about details and start reducing carbon emissions to preserve demand in lucrative markets.

“It is very real in-market,” he said.

Peterson said “If people think this is being dreamed up by NZ politicians to get at NZ farmers then you need to think again.”

It is being driven by those who buy our food.

“Companies and consumers are driving climate change.

“We know governments are slow to react and are often behind the private sector and commercial drivers.”

Unless New Zealanders act sooner rather than later they run the risk of alienating affluent customers in the United States, Europe, Britain and here.

“This is more than just a movement. 

“It is something the big retailers are asking for and, importantly, something consumers are seeking as well.

“Discerning consumers really are driving it,” Peterson said.

His warning was backed by retiring AgResearch chief executive Dr Tom Richardson who said New Zealanders have been a bit slow to understand global food outlets now have social contracts with their customers.

So the primary sector should be working on its credentials to maintain market access rather than worrying about alternative foods that are not a threat to them.

Most NZ exports target niche markets that are continuing to grow and provide more opportunities.

Much of the added value that can be achieved by NZ food exports will be created by production systems and the certification, banding and provenance storytelling that is built around those systems.

“Customers want proof of environmental credentials and technology is making it realistic for them to expect that in real time,” Richardson said.

The agriculture sector should not be obsessed with setting targets but start acting now to reduce methane and work towards a state of net zero carbon or carbon neutrality.

“We are never going to eliminate carbon coming from food production.

“We will not stop all methane coming from ruminants but we should undertake practical changes to reduce methane through management and research.”

Petersen said many producers are working to cut their emissions but others aren’t.

The Government’s Zero Carbon Bill proposes reducing methane emissions by 10% of 2017 levels by 2030 and by 24% to 47% by 2050.

The 10%  and 25% targets are achievable but he doubts the sector needs a 47% target.

“It has to be better than 10% and somewhat ambitious enough to get ahead of where the world is moving.

“It has to be a figure which shows we are serious about reducing our contribution to climate change and ensure we maintain our position as the world’s most efficient producer of food.

“It’s not good enough just to be up with the rest.”

Government suggestions that woodlots, riparian planting and shelter belts will be eligible for farmers to offset emissions are pleasing.

He has land suitable for retiring in trees, a scenario he says is common for most farms.

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