The Beef + Lamb NZ-organised campaign Kiwis Backing Farmers suggests farmers are feeling stressed by the sheer quantity and pace of the regulatory change the government is attempting to introduce before the general election in October. It wants to persuade the government to push the pause button while it works out which bits of legislation are flawed or in need of more thought.
Specific areas to address include limiting carbon farm conversions, recognition of all on-farm sequestration, review of methane targets using the latest science, halting the Biodiversity National Policy Statement, providing a fair and practical definition of Significant Natural Areas (SNAs), correcting the inaccurate mapping of fenced areas for stock exclusion, changing the thresholds for freshwater farm plans, and amending the winter grazing slope rules.
The number of issues raised indicates there is a massive amount of work to be done in an impossibly short time, if farmers are to consider they have had sufficient input into the final solutions directly affecting them.
BLNZ is very much of the opinion the present pace of regulatory change risks alienating and stressing farmers to the point where they cannot meet the required commitments.
Conversely, Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor thinks the campaign could hinder progress towards the final implementation of He Waka Eke Noa (HWEN). He says he was assured a month ago of the sector’s commitment to progress towards the introduction of what the government had already agreed in principle, although he also accepts there remain challenging issues to resolve, such as fixing the emissions pricing and recognition of sequestration on farm.
BLNZ CEO Sam McIvor takes a somewhat different view of the nature of the issues still to be resolved, stating it will not accept a deal that disadvantages its farmers. Ongoing involvement in HWEN is contingent on finding solutions to these issues.
O’Connor believes protest campaigns are usually counterproductive, often resulting in the opposite outcome to the one sought. He makes the point that water quality, biodiversity and climate change have been on the agenda for 40 years, while SNAs have been a matter for discussion since the 1990s.
He acknowledges the problems caused for the farming sector by covid, inflation and catastrophic weather events, but says further delay is not acceptable; and, to achieve certainty for farmers, it is preferable to resolve all outstanding issues as soon as possible, ideally before the election, which will result in changes to the negotiated agreement one way or the other.
He also makes the point that current legislation commits the government to bringing agriculture into the emissions scheme by January 1, 2025.
At this point, seven months out from the election date, there appear to be two options: a National/ACT coalition, which would be more kindly disposed to working with agriculture on less stringent solutions, or a Labour/Green government, which would be determined to introduce as tough a regime as necessary to meet New Zealand’s climate change commitments.
NZ First and Winston Peters potentially introduce another complication, although on this issue I believe he would side with the former, having expressed his feelings of having been betrayed by Labour.
National’s agricultural spokesperson, Todd McClay, takes a diametrically opposite view of the value of the Kiwis Backing Farmers campaign, believing it to be an excellent idea, although he sees it as more likely to bridge the urban/rural disconnect than drive any change in the government’s plans.
He says Labour appears to believe farming is a problem, despite its enormous value to the economy, and has ignored the hard work farmers do in caring for the environment. In his opinion, the present government has lost farmers’ trust by concluding the European Union trade deal with minimal concessions for dairy and beef, as well as adopting an unduly tough stance on emissions measurement and other new legislation.
He agrees the amount of regulation and red tape introduced over the past five years is excessive and says a National government would commit to less, but smarter regulation, designed to come up with solutions that work for farmers and the country as a whole.
McClay guarantees National’s policy would include recognition of all on-farm sequestration, while ensuring efficient agricultural production and trade would not be driven offshore in the interests of reducing NZ’s emissions. He intends to work with climate change spokesperson Simon Watts to define National’s agricultural and climate change message, which he anticipates releasing in the next couple of weeks.
ACT’s agricultural spokesperson, Mark Cameron, farms at Ruawai in the Kaipara District and has experienced the impact of the recent cyclones and storms. He maintains farmers must be provided with commercially tenable solutions to help them reduce their emissions, rather than being hit with a sea of changes with which they will be compelled to comply.
One glaring area for mitigation is the need for NZ to adopt new technologies such as GMOs, where we lag behind our trade competitors such as the EU and Australia. He says farmers have had enough of being hit by regulations that defy common sense and prevent them from taking advantage of available science.
He sees much more water to flow under the bridge before HWEN is finally adopted, because there will inevitably be much debate about some of the targets that are currently not fit for purpose like methane, based on GWP100 instead of GWP*as a shorter lived gas in the atmosphere.
The government has grudgingly agreed to look at this, although James Shaw’s comments in his capacity as Minister for Climate Change suggest he is not in favour of cutting farmers any slack. Cameron believes NZ’s emissions pricing should be set to match that of our main trading partners, thereby avoiding unfairly and unnecessarily penalising farmers.
While the campaign to slow the pace of regulatory change will undoubtedly meet resistance from ministers O’Connor and Shaw, the reality of the upcoming election will apply pressure to government attempts to pass too much more unwelcome regulation. Timing may be farmers’ biggest ally.