Thursday, December 7, 2023

Greens hit the regen button

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A fertiliser levy, tighter nitrogen (N) limits and a ban on palm kernel may have farmers scrambling for feed alternatives, should the Green’s agricultural policy come into play post-election.
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James Shaw | September 21, 2020 from GlobalHQ on Vimeo.

The policy also includes significant investment into regenerative and organic farm practices. It also comes with acknowledgement from Green party co-leader James Shaw the transition to more sustainable farming systems is a national challenge, with almost $300 million being set aside to aid that transition.

“We know a lot of farmers want to make that transition but are indebted and on that hamster wheel, unable to get off it,” he said.

Shaw says it was a possibility a portion of the funds could be committed to helping indebted farmers reduce debt and transition to lower input farming systems.

“That might be an option. The idea is to put the money out there and not be overly prescriptive,” he said.

“We have committed to putting the money on the table and look at the best ways to support transition.”

Coming on the heels of the Government’s 190kg a hectare a year N limit, the fertiliser levy is estimated to cost an average dairy unit $1500 a year, based on N and phosphate use.

“We wanted to set a price signal, without it becoming too burdensome. It is enough to make people think they would not mind paying less and getting more efficient with their use,” he said.

The levy payment is estimated to generate about $30 million a year and would go back into the funding pot to aid transition.

The levy value marks a significant step down from the Green’s proposal to tax nitrate losses in the last election. That was proposed at the rate of $2 a kg of nitrate losses. At the time, it was estimated it would have cost the average Canterbury dairy farm $18,000 a year.

Shaw acknowledged the work done since by Labour in tightening water standards, but says the Greens’ focus on regenerative and organic practice transition aimed to move changes along quicker.

The controversial Dissolved Inorganic Nitrate (DIN) figure for nitrate levels in waterways that has been pushed out beyond the election has also come under the Green party spotlight.

Shaw says the Greens intended to ensure that it did not slip from the post-election agenda and got a thorough revisit in the coming year

While N use will be more costly, using palm kernel to replace it in the feed budget will also be unlikely with the product being banned.

“We have already seen Pamu step away from it, and Fonterra incentivise their farmers not to use it,” he said.

“I think most farmers would be horrified to know their use of it makes them responsible for the extinction of the Sumatran orangutan.

“There are other sectors in NZ who would be happy to supply that feed, like the grain sector.”

Shaw says while the Greens were wanting to encourage a move to more regenerative farming techniques, he also recognised the shortcomings in definitions and understandings of the term “regenerative.”

“It is a term getting thrown around a lot,” he said.

What we know after several decades of organic farming is there are clear standards which significantly boost that sector’s value. It would be helpful to the broader regenerative movement if we had a better definition of it.

“We do need to cut down on trendy but ill-defined use of the term.”

He acknowledged the risks of committing taxpayer funding to a sector that lacks empirical evidence of its success in an NZ farming context, drawing largely on United States, Australian and European experience.

“Part of what we propose is more research into it. We do need a much better understanding of it in a NZ context. We have committed $5 million over three years to exactly that question. You leave yourself an option then if you are barking up the wrong tree,” he said.

The Greens also intend to boost organic regulations around the Organic Products Bill introduced to Parliament in March.

“We do not intend to reinvent it, but there are some things we feel it comes up short on,” he said.

It doesn’t include a particularly robust definition of organics. We would also like an industry group to oversee its legislative mandate.”

Shaw says one area he would have liked to see more progress on was that of water storage on smaller-farm scale levels, and he wanted that to advance over the coming election term.

Meantime, he was confident the Green’s policy could dovetail with the Labour party’s efforts to date.

“David Parker has worked hard on water standards, and I think Minister (of Agriculture Damien) O’Connor would be keen to see the additional financial support,” he said.

Shaw says when combined with the $700 million Labour had committed to healthy waterways, the Green’s $300 million meant an average of about $20,000 a farm committed to water quality.

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