The Federated Farmers National Council has decided ‘direction of travel’ on two key issues – a pricing mechanism for livestock greenhouse gas emissions, and what changes are needed to policies that incentivise blanket afforestation of farmland.
The presidents of the Federation’s 24 provinces joined elected leaders of the dairy and meat & wool Councils in an on-line special general meeting on March 15 to debate what have proved to be thorny issues.
Bar one abstention, the vote was unanimously in favour of advocating for a series of changes that Feds forestry spokesperson William Beetham said were necessary to “even up the land use playing field” between forestry and farm production.
While the vote on the He Waka Eke Noa Primary Sector Climate Action Partnership options was more mixed, the clear majority favoured the farm level levy over the processor hybrid levy, in that it better rewarded farmers who took action to address emissions. But that indication was with the strong rider that the final model meets the Federation’s bottom lines, including ones set back in November 2019.
While many made comments that farmers are absolutely committed to joining fellow New Zealanders in the drive to reduce greenhouse gases, the elected Feds leaders are adamant a pricing mechanism must not incentivize, encourage, or expect to result in reduced New Zealand food and fiber fibre production.
“The core purpose should be encouraging New Zealand farmers to farm even better but not less,” Feds President Andrew Hoggard said.
The world has also made commitments to deal with hunger and a growing global population. Kiwi farmers already have among the lowest emissions footprints per kilogram of meat and dairy produced.
“If a pricing mechanism forces them to pull back their output, we’ll get emissions leakage – less efficient producers in other countries will take up the slack and the global emissions tally will be worse,” Andrew said.
The Council agreed to further discuss other bottom lines that would need to be met for any option to get the Federation’s endorsement.
“We need as an industry to be able to say ‘No’ to the Minister if the final proposals don’t work for New Zealand and for farming,” Andrew said.
He was particularly strong on the need for representatives put forward by agriculture to be on any committee that would set an emissions price and make other key decisions going forward.
“It seems to me that without that, you have about as much control as being able to tie your own noose.”
On the forestry issue, the National Council decided to push for amendments to the ETS to limit how many forestry units participants can surrender for non-forestry related activities. William Beetham said in most other countries there are limits on how much of their emissions polluters can cover by buying forestry credits or other units.
Given the carbon price, the lack of a cap on offsetting was tilting land use in favour of forestry. The short-term profits available from so-called ‘carbon farming’ – essentially shut the gate and walk away plantations – were also driving up land prices, further disadvantaging existing and potential future sheep and beef farming operations, including an impact on rates.
The provincial presidents agreed to lobby government to amend the National Environment Standard for Plantation Forestry so that it included permanent, carbon-only forestry and further, that resource consent processes were also made non-discriminatory, meaning all land uses should be treated equally as regards their effects.
Despite the announcements by Environment Minister David Parker last month proposing to remove the streamlined ‘special forestry test’ pathway for overseas buyers acquiring land for forestry, there were still concerns, William said.
“The process is going to take well over a year to come into force. So the special forestry test still exists meantime.”
Those overseas investors buying farmland to convert to forestry will need to meet ‘benefit to New Zealand’ criteria. But the current government takes the view that mass planting of trees is advantageous for carbon sequestration and thus applications might clear that ‘benefit’ hurdle with other impacts on rural communities – lower levels of employment compared to farming, for example – not adequately taken into account.
“This review of the special forest test is going to need a lot more advocating on by us and others to ensure an agnostic approach on land use applies in reality,” William said.
The Federation’s provincial presidents also called for carbon-only forests to be subject to sensible fire management and pest control rules, just as applies to production forests, and that changes be made to legislation to ensure forestry pays a share of local authority rates that accurately reflect the impact on council activities, such as roading.
It was noted that only five or six councils in New Zealand have forestry rates differentials. The Feds Council argued such differentials should be required.