Cost of food production to rise – farmers nervous

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Toni Williams

The cost of food production is set to increase as New Zealand’s agricultural industry faces scrutiny trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

It’s causing angst among a farming community already concerned about the “tidal wave of legislation coming out of government”, says Federated Farmers Mid Canterbury provincial president David Clark.

“Farmers are very, very nervous about what their future holds, extremely nervous and purchasing confidence is being influenced by that,” Mr Clark said.

“There is no encourager at the moment to invest in one’s agricultural business. And that is going to flow into a service town such as Ashburton.”

It was unlikely to change any time soon, he said.

Mr Clark was at the “Action on agricultural emissions” information session, hosted by Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and Ministry for the Environment (MFE) at the Ashburton Trust Event Centre, in Ashburton last week.

The session was one of 16 being held nationwide to inform people of the ‘five year programme of action to address agricultural emissions’, get feedback and encourage people to have their say in the submission process.

It was facilitated by Jo Sheridan, with Ministry for Primary Industries staff Chris Kerr, George Stracham and Toni Wi as well as Ministry for the Environment’s Matt Everett and Kate Williman outlining the background to the proposal, and, as much as possible, answer questions on emissions policies.

The consultation is part of New Zealand’s response to the global effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to limit the world’s average temperature increase, forecast to be four degrees higher by 2100.

It would cause a rise in sea levels of between half a metre to one metre, cause dry areas to become drier and wet areas to become wetter, with more flooding and landslides.

In an attempt to stabilise the temperature growth to around one and a half degrees changes need to be made.

The zero carbon bill is now under scrutiny but the long term framework has been set to reduce methane greenhouse gas emissions by 10 per cent by 2050, and between 24 per cent and 27 per cent by 2050.

And to get nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide to net zero by 2050.

There are two options which have been put forward in the consultation.

They have come through recommendations from the Interim Climate Change Committee and from conversations had with leaders in the agricultural sector.

Around 100 people from within the agricultural industry attended – many were farmers, including those from outside the district.

Organisers were flooded with questions, and statements, during the open-forum question time.

Some of the issues included the cost to farmers and the effect on farm profitability, why ruminants were considered more problematic than vehicles, aircraft or shipping, why riparian plantings, wetlands or growing grass, seed or weed on farm were not considered for offsetting emissions as they took carbon dioxide out of the environment, the introduction of genetically modified product to help reduce emissions and introducing cross border type tariffs on importers so New Zealand’s domestic farmers, facing emission penalties, could still be competitive.

Mr Clark was disappointed MPI and MFE were using a gross emission figure in their pie chart and “continuing to perpetuate the lie that methane is 48 per cent of NZ’s emissions. That is just simply not true.”

The net figure was much different.

Mr Clark said “methane is entirely different to carbon in that it is a gas that breaks down after a short period of time, commonly referred to as a flow gas.”

The methane emitted today replaces the methane that has broken down and emitted over a decade ago, he said.

“So long as stock numbers, or more correctly the amount of feed fed to stock in NZ stays in balance, agricultural emissions are the equivalent of net zero.”

If the rate of admission and the rate of decomposition are the same, that is net zero, he said.

“Methane emissions in NZ have risen 6.2 percent from 1990 to 2017 – that is an absolute stand out within the New Zealand economy.

“In that same period, transport has almost doubled…agricultural production in New Zealand has doubled.

“We are one of the world’s most efficient food producers and NZ farmers should be incredibly proud of that fact and we shouldn’t be vilified.”

He encouraged farmers, growers and industry to raise their issues and submit feedback to ‘action on agricultural emissions’.

They can be done online at www.submissions.mfe.govt.nz or in paper form by August 13 at 5pm.

MFE are hosting information sessions around the country to inform as many people as possible about the agricultural emissions. The sessions have been held in Tauranga, Whangarei, Christchurch, Ashburton, Lake Karapiro, Hawera, New Plymouth, Napier, Gisborne and Wellington. Meetings are still to be held in Invercargill (Aug 1), Greymouth (Aug 2), Carterton (Aug 5), Palmerston North (Aug 5), Auckland (Aug 6) and Nelson (Aug 7) and people can check out Facebook, or the MFE website for details, and are encouraged to attend.