Thursday, November 30, 2023

New Beef + Lamb chair hits the ground running

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Kate Acland has wasted no time getting her feet under the boardroom table.
A key part of the long-term thinking for Kate and David Acland on Mt Somers station has been forestry, discussed at length at the recent field day.
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Kate Acland has spent the past couple of weeks talking with levy payers, many of whom have been disillusioned by Beef + lamb NZ’s direction of travel over the past few years.

Now she’s calling for the staged implementation of an emissions pricing framework with the deferral of pricing until outstanding issues are resolved.

“We need to take the time to get this right, because the future of our sector depends on it,” Acland says.

Acland, B+LNZ’s first female chair, was elected following the organisation’s annual meeting last month.    

“Since taking up the role I’ve been talking to a lot of farmers about the nine remits voted on at the annual meeting,” she says. 

“We know there is significant concern about the cumulative impact of the wave of regulations on the viability of sheep and beef farmers. We [the BLNZ board] share that concern.

“We also know farmers aren’t anti change, but if change is going to be driven by regulation it needs to be the right changes, for the right reasons, at the right pace.” 

She acknowledges it is important that farmers have confidence in BLNZ and the positions the board takes on its farmers’ behalf.

“We will continue to urge the government to pause any new regulations, fix the issues with the existing rules and review the cumulative financial and social impacts of the environmental regulatory agenda on farmers and our rural communities.”

Emissions pricing is clearly the No 1 concern among farmers right now, with many of the remits related to the agricultural emissions pricing process, He Waka Eke Noa (HWEN).

“While there is significant concern about the potential impact of emissions pricing on farmers, it’s also clear that climate change and emissions pricing are issues that are not going to go away,” Acland says. 

“Any approach to emissions measurement and pricing must have a sound rationale and cannot threaten the viability of our sheep and beef farms.

“The board has committed to getting out and talking to farmers over the next few months and to listen more to concerns.”

Acland says there are still too many unanswered questions. 

“Given the limited time available to resolve these concerns and then stand up systems, it has become apparent it’s not appropriate to price agricultural emissions from the outset.

“In light of this, BLNZ is advocating for a staged implementation of an emissions pricing framework with the deferral of any pricing until outstanding issues are resolved.”

BLNZ is not deviating from the principles of a farm-level approach and keeping agriculture out of the Emissions Trading Scheme, as proposed by the HWEN partnership.

“We remain committed to and see value in the HWEN collaborative partnership approach, but we need to take the time to get this right because the future of our sector relies on it.”  

The government and the National Party have consistently said they intend to price agricultural emissions, but Acland says this is an issue of how and when. 

“We need time to have deeper conversations about this with all of our farmers, and the plan in the coming months is for a series of woolshed meetings, maybe also in pubs, to give farmers the opportunity to engage.   

“Our farmers have a track record of innovating in the face of change and we need their input to make things work. “We do need to establish a credible, robust, centralised measurement system trusted by farmers and other stakeholders.

“It’s the scale and pace of change that is concerning, we need government to just take a pause and let us get a workable pathway forward.

“With Scope 3 emissions reporting, where activities are tracked across the entire value chain, becoming widely demanded internationally, there are potential opportunities in having credible numbers around this – but a measurement and reporting system should meet this need to ensure farmers don’t have to duplicate activities.” 

Acland has also been appointed as the first woman to head the New Zealand Meat Board, a role that includes overseeing $2.3 billion of red meat exports to the quota markets of the European Union, United Kingdom and the United States, a function that is to expand further into administering the Free Trade Agreement quotas between the UK and NZ.

Behind the farm gate, Acland farms Mt Somers Station, Canterbury, with her husband David.

The couple have three children: Leo, 12, Otto, 11 and Harriet, 10. They employ 30 staff over a diverse range of businesses.

The property runs 30,000 stock units in a mix of sheep and beef, as well as an 850-cow dairy unit.

Mt Somers Station includes a standalone honey operation with 500ha of native vegetation and beech forest supporting 400 hives that produce mānuka, honeydew and clover honeys.

Farming with a 100-year vision for future family succession is what drives their decision making and performance across the 3900ha dryland farming business and related commercial operations. 

The family connection to the land can be traced back to David’s great-great-grandfather, John Acland, who started on the station in 1856.

His parents Mark and Jo started on Mt Somers in 1983, with David and Kate taking full ownership in 2017.

In keeping with the couple’s 100-year vision, the station has transitioned to a “relatively intensive” farm system. One momentous change that didn’t happen without significant anguish was the decision to move out of deer.

David’s father was one of the early pioneers of live deer capture and commercial deer farming in NZ.

“That unfortunately didn’t fit with us wanting to be here for the longer term. It was an emotional decision we had to make in our 100-year vision,”  David says.

A key part of the long-term thinking has been forestry, with 2400ha of the station carrying the sheep and beef cattle and dairy support for the 330ha dryland dairy platform, while 270ha is in pine forestry destined for carbon farming and tree harvesting, with 480ha stock free in native bush.  

The carbon farming and forestry are a key diversification and long-term income streams to manage debt reduction and family succession.

The trees, taking up land where gorse once grew and in areas of the station that are more difficult to manage, are not using land that is taking anything away from the pastural farming.

Pinus radiata has been planted over the past three years with carbon budgeted out for 40 years. Another 125ha of regenerative native bush is also registered with ETS with plans to grow another 60ha.

“It’s all about future generations and complying with our environmental responsibilities.”       

Meanwhile, wasting no time getting her feet under the boardroom table, Kate has quickly learned that governance can be brutal.

“I ended up in it rather than aspired to it and I am proud to have the opportunity to chair these organisations, which play such a vital role in NZ’s sheep, beef and red meat sector and to represent farmers and the sector I’m enormously passionate about.

“I’m personally optimistic about the future of farming and to leaving a productive farm for our own young family and future generations.

“Right now farming is tough and farmers are facing unprecedented challenges and change.

“I look forward to leading the organisation that helps farmers through that change.

“There are a lot of issues and they can get quite personalised, quite brutal even, but we need to step above that.  We all have different thoughts on how we solve issues, we all want a strong thriving vibrant farming industry, we shouldn’t be throwing stones at each other.”

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