Kiwis are being urged to back New Zealand sheep and beef farmers as part of a new campaign designed to raise awareness about crippling government policies.
The Kiwis Backing Farmers campaign, supported by Beef + Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ) and rural advocacy group 50 Shades of Green, highlights the overwhelming wave of policies and proposals threatening the future of sheep and beef farms and rural communities across the country.
Andrew Morrison, chairman of B+LNZ, says the cumulative impact of all the policy changes on sheep and beef farmers is massive and likely to drive many to consider if they have a future in the sector.
“The conversion of whole productive sheep and beef farms into carbon farms, impractical freshwater reforms, excessive methane targets and heavy-handed measures that disincentivise biodiversity protection are among the policies the red meat sector is demanding the government fix.
“Our farmers are actively working to address climate change, improve our waterways and protect New Zealand’s biodiversity, and we’ve been making great strides in lifting our environmental performance.
“However, farmers are snowed under and exhausted. The Prime Minister recently acknowledged the government has gone too far, too fast in some areas and agriculture is definitely one of those areas.
“The government needs to pause some of its policy programme and focus on getting the policies right before pressing on. Areas such as biodiversity and RMA reform are critical to get right for future generations. But they’re rushing consultation and not engaging properly with the people on the ground who are expected to implement the policies.
“Many farmers are also doing it tough in the aftermath of Cyclone Gabrielle – having the right policies in place is now more important than ever so they can quickly get back on their feet.
“We need New Zealanders to stand up, back the world’s best sheep and beef farmers and ensure our sector gets sensible and workable policies.”
At the heart of the campaign is the www.kiwisbackingfarmers.nz website, which outlines simple policy solutions and enables Kiwis to show their support for sheep and beef farmers by sending their views directly to the government.
Sam McIvor, chief executive of B+LNZ, says many of the policies have been developed in isolation.
“We’re asking the government to undertake a review of the cumulative impact as the combination of these rules will cause irreparable harm – it’s vital we get them right as there is no going back.
“Most urgently, the government must introduce measures to address the out-of-control conversion of sheep and beef farms into carbon farming.”
Gwyn Jones, 50 Shades of Green, has been at the forefront of this issue with B+LNZ. “We are not anti-forestry and strongly support the integration of trees within farms.
“However, as the carbon price increases, more and more food producing farms are being sold and converted into carbon farms so fossil fuel emitters can offset their emissions rather than reduce them. It’s a short-term solution that is frankly kicking the can down the road at the expense of rural communities, and our economy.
“The scale and pace of this change will hollow out those rural communities, with many small businesses like vets, shearers, garages and schools closing down.”
McIvor says one key response is required.
“We’re calling on the government to put limits on the amount of forestry that can be offset in the Emissions Trading Scheme and to do this before any price on agricultural emissions is introduced, otherwise it will just hasten the number of farmers leaving the land.”
Another major concern is the proposed biodiversity rules, where overly broad criteria for identifying Significant Natural Areas (SNAs) threaten to tie up sheep and beef farmers in red tape, he says.
“Indigenous biodiversity is hugely important to our farmers. Sheep and beef farmers are already the largest custodians of New Zealand’s biodiversity after the national conservation estate through their own volition, so it should be an asset, but government regulation is turning it into a liability.
“Respected biodiversity experts agree the criteria for identifying SNAs is too wide and will include virtually all areas of native biodiversity. Ironically, those farmers who have protected their biodiversity over the last decades will be the most impacted. This process has to be stopped and given a serious rethink.”
The country’s current methane reduction targets are also excessive and out of step with science. They mean pastoral farming, and the sheep and beef sector in particular, is being asked to do significantly more than fossil fuel emitters, says McIvor.
“We‘re playing our part in addressing global warming – we’ve reduced our emissions by 30 percent since 1990.
“New Zealand is the first country in the world to look to put a price on agricultural emissions. It’s therefore critical we take a cautious approach and we shouldn’t risk driving some of the world’s most efficient farmers off the land.”
He says the government also made fundamental mistakes when it rushed out impractical freshwater rules in 2019 and these still need to be fixed.
“Farmers agree with the principle of stock exclusion from waterways. However, we want the government to abandon the flawed ‘slope map’ approach to determining whether a farmer needs to put a fence in to exclude stock, and instead work with regional councils and industry on an approach that reflects on-the-ground risk.
“It’s impossible to map the entire country at the paddock scale with enough detail to determine whether a fence is needed or not.”
Morrison says the red meat sector has been a standout of the economy during the COVID-19 pandemic and recovery, providing $12 billion in income per year to New Zealand and nearly five percent of total employment on-farm and in processing and support services.
“Anything that compromises our sector’s viability or forces sheep and beef farmers out of business will make the country poorer and ultimately increase food costs.”