Two key tools for addressing agricultural emissions are being held back by government red tape.
Use of the methane inhibitor Bovaer was approved by 43 countries in the past year, but its New Zealand application has been bogged down in bureaucracy for more than two years, with no release date in sight.
And implementation of He Waka Eke Noa (HWEN), the primary sector agreement to reduce agricultural greenhouse gases, is also stalled – prompting parties to start questioning some of its proposed measures.
Last week Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor floated the idea of a fertiliser tax, a move many believe indicated HWEN legislation will not be passed before the election.
The National and ACT parties claim HWEN is dead and National has withdrawn its support.
If elected, both parties have said they intend renegotiating the agreement to include several bottom-line conditions.
HWEN programme director Kelly Forster said the agreement is not dead.
“Discussions with ministers are ongoing and sector partners remain committed to working together to find constructive solutions,” she said in a statement.
O’Connor also said HWEN is not dead. The Labour Party has not changed its position, he said, “unlike other parties”.
He pointed out that a majority of farmers support farm-level pricing of emissions rather than being included in the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).
“The government remains committed to working with the HWEN partnership to put in place a system that’s practical and effective,” O’Connor said.
While confirming her commitment to HWEN, Beef + Lamb NZ chair Kate Acland said the organisation “fundamentally believes the current methane targets are too high and do not reflect the latest science when it comes to methane’s warming impact on the planet”.
Acland said farmers need robust emissions reporting and measuring, and no price should be imposed until issues with sequestration have been addressed and viable mitigations are available.
“We will not agree to an outcome that disproportionately impacts our sheep and beef farmers.”
The chances of the agreement becoming law before the election are slim and even less so should there be a change in government at October’s general election.
O’Connor said the key milestones for pricing agricultural emissions have always been beyond the election, but he warned that if a pricing process cannot be agreed before January 1 2025, farming will enter the ETS.
National Party leader Christopher Luxon told media this week that forecasts that potentially 20% of sheep and beef farmers could be forced off their land show the price of HWEN is too high
Similarly, any decline in NZ production being picked up by less efficient offshore producers is an unacceptable risk.
Luxon said the party’s climate change policy will be released in the coming weeks.
National agriculture spokesperson Todd McClay told Farmers Weekly last week that renegotiating HWEN will include provisos such as targets based on science and will not be at the expense of NZ’s competitiveness or the sector’s viability, or encourage production to shift to less carbon efficient countries.
ACT agriculture spokesperson Mark Cameron has additional provisos that tie emissions targets to those of NZ’s five main trading partners and are based on available emission reduction technology.
Cameron also wants a “mature conversation” about technology, including the role of genetically modified organisms.
As for Bovaer, the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) began work on a risk assessment in February 2021, it said.
“EPA staff determined the initial hazard classifications for multiple formulations of the substance, as the application covers a range of 3-nitrooxypropanol (3-NOP) concentrations,” it said.
In August 2021 the manufacturer, DSM, requested the application be put on hold while it compiled further information for the assessment process.
This information was received by the EPA in March 2022.
The EPA then asked for further clarifications in relation to the application.
“The final documents are in the process of being reviewed before the application is submitted for consideration by the delegated decision maker.”
A decision is expected in the coming months.