by Gavin Forrest, Federated Farmers GM Policy & Advocacy
From time to time , and far too often, alternative facts gain traction that are both inaccurate and unhelpful to the farming sector. One such myth is that the claim that the recent Climate Change Report called for a 15% drop in livestock numbers.
This is not correct. The Climate Change Commission, however, predicted that as a result of several Government policies harmful to farmers, dairy and sheep and beef stock numbers will each reduce significantly, and could perhaps reduce by up to 15% without cutting food production.
In a Rural News report the Climate Change Commission Chair, Rod Carr, set the record straight, saying: “There has been a bit of focus claiming the commission had set a target for reducing flocks and herds and the numbers of animals. That’s not a target we are setting. We are saying that with land-use change, the de-intensification as a result of the water regulations and some of the opportunities to get more production from the residual 85% of flocks means that we will be able to produce as much milk and meat as we produce today but with fewer animals. That raises the question, ‘do few fewer animals create more methane so you don’t really get the reduction?’ The answer is, this does not appear to be the case.”
Federated Farmers is concerned that a wave of regulatory pressures from Wellington risk making farming unviable in New Zealand. Many of these regulations are based on false assumptions and ideology. We are concerned that these regulations will result in a reduction in the livestock sector to the point that it will significantly and adversely affect farmers ability to continue to make a dominant contribution to the national and regional economies. We are highly sceptical that a nationwide 15% reduction in livestock numbers can be fully compensated for by increased production.
Feds continues to strongly oppose NZ’s distortionary overseas investment rules that favour the conversion of livestock farms to blanket forestry by international investors, oppose the continuing dependence by the NZ Government on the temporary climate accounting solution of afforestation, and oppose ‘carbon farming’ in it’s worst form (which is used to avoid the need to reduce Carbon dioxide emissions). Feds staunchly oppose the constant and inaccurate portrayal of agriculture as being half NZ’s greenhouse gas emissions, when the sector’s actual effect on increased temperatures is much less. A not often repeated fact is that NZ’s biogenic methane emissions have been essentially stable for 20 years (as an aside our estimated Nitrogen losses to water at a national scale have also been remarkably stable for 20 years)
For biogenic methane emissions from NZ’s livestock sector to achieve warming neutrality a 10% reduction is needed by 2050. Methane is a short-lived greenhouse gas, and once levels are reduced and stabilised, no longer add to global warming. This means a herd of cattle or flock of sheep that maintain stable numbers over a long period of time have the same atmospheric warming impact as a decommissioned coal power plant, i.e. historic, but no ongoing warming impact.
Feds have committed to achieving warming neutrality by 2050, but even a 10% reduction in biogenic methane levels will be difficult to achieve without cutting food production. Given that there are currently no known commercially-available technologies that can achieve these reductions other than feeding less to our cattle, sheep and deer these reductions come at a real cost. While challenging, a 10% reduction by 2050, is manageable compared to the huge costs of the current unjustified Government target of 24% to 47% which Federated Farmers vigorously opposed.
The bottom end of the current target (24%), which was cherry-picked from an international report despite warnings from authors not to do so, would come at annual dairy farmgate cost of $4.3 billion from 2050 at a $7 payout all other factors being equal.