Posted on behalf of Sally Lee. Sally farms sheep and beef in West Waikato, is an agricultural consultant, and a member of the AgDialogue group. You can follow what Sally is up to at http://burklee-farm.blogspot.com/
I accepted the offer of joining the AgDialogue group to broaden my own knowledge on agricultural emissions and to have some say, if possible, on the future of the ETS on NZ farmers and NZers as a whole. The group is made up of people whom I am beginning to understand more, and who, outside of this group, I would probably never have gotten the opportunity to meet. I hope that this group will be able to inflict some positive change and stimulate understanding of rural concerns to non-rural politicians and others as we progress through this debate.
As a sheep and beef farmer and a consultant to the pastoral industry, my underlying feeling is that I am opposed to the Emission Trading Scheme (ETS) for NZ agriculture in any shape or form.
With the mass of information in the media about the Emissions Trading Scheme, it is extremely easy to get confused. My belief it that as it stands now, the ETS is purely a tax on farmers collected at the processor level. There is absolutely no incentive for farmers to change what they are doing on farm, apart to make the extra margin in their bottom line to pay the tax. Farmers, as with other NZers, are already paying through the use of fuel and energy. Should we be paying again?
However, I am slowly coming to the realisation that the ETS will exist in some form, although maybe not as we currently know it. So, what should farmers be doing?
As a hill country farmer, it has been suggested that the solution to our emissions is planting pine trees. I have seen communities in the past lost forever through the planting of mass areas of pine trees and am a little cynical about the long term solution they offer. Also, as an individual farmer, you still require the upfront capital or a joint venture to turn tree planting into reality, this can be limiting especially after the difficult years we have had as drystock farmers. Also, if we take out large blocks of land, regardless of contour or slope, we will reduce our ‘protein’ production which is currently purchased by NZers and international markets. The result of this could be that, yes, NZ may have reduced its emissions, but this food production will be replaced by some other country (with the accompanying emissions), with no net world emissions decrease.
Instead, I believe that many of the answers to the ETS are about good farming practice and improving efficiency on farm. The obvious way to reduce emissions is to reduce your stocking rate, however, if this is not managed well it can lead to reduced income, and as farmers we would be no better off. Efficiency can also come in the form of improved lambing and calving percentages, better growth rates, and improved pasture production and utilisation. This is known as Best Practice Management. However, this is not new science/technology and many farmers have still not adapted to this way of farming. Why not? What do we have to do differently to incentivise change? I recently returned from the first national conference on biological farming systems where there were a number of questions raised as to what role a biological system might have in our emissions.
Also, if we are going to go down this ETS path, then what is the country and the world prepared to pay for our produce? Farmers can’t keep farming with rising costs and red tape. With the demise of farmers, there are a number of other consequences that NZ must consider. We might achieve our environmental and financial goals, but this might come at the expense of social sustainability. Other important issues include whether NZ can afford to look at ETS in isolation, or should it be incorporating other issues such as water quality and quantity, ecosystems, carbon footprinting, etc.?
Overall, I feel that NZ farmers should not be targeted. Agriculture contributes a large portion of NZ’s GDP and when agriculture does well, so does the country. Therefore, I believe that NZ needs to pitch in and deal with the problem as a whole. We as NZ should take the bull by the horns and be a world leader – but we need the support of all, and can’t just target agriculture.