Federated Farmers South Canterbury President Greg Anderson has written his share of reports and submissions in his role advocating for local farmers but he says a recent piece he penned for his local newspaper sparked the most feedback he’s received – especially from people who’ve found the agricultural emissions issues confusing. We thought it was worth sharing to a wider audience….
I was intending this month to report about my trip to Europe and how farming over there compares to New Zealand. But due to the Government’s release on how they are going to tax farmers for their emissions to help combat climate change, I feel it’s necessary to let people know Feds’ position – and mine.
You will be hearing and seeing a lot of talk in the media about how this is world-leading and complies with our international commitments. Personally, if you believe that you probably believe in the tooth fairy, and at least she gives you money.
A bit of background for those who don’t know how we have got to this point. Originally the Government passed legislation (remembering that farmers, like all New Zealanders are already in the Emissions Trading Scheme with the taxes they pay on fuel and electricity) that put farmers in the ETS to tax or levy (the same thing really) farmers’ emissions from livestock. This was seen as a crude instrument by farmers due to the fact that we were to be taxed on carbon dioxide (C02) equivalent emissions from our livestock when we all know that animals do not emit carbon dioxide but methane, which the public has been hoodwinked into believing is a worse gas than CO2. In fact, methane only stays in the atmosphere for 10 to 12 years whereas CO2 stays there for 300 to 1000 years. Even my granddaughter can understand that, so how can those two gases be taxed the same?
The other problem with the ETS is that the price of carbon is also driven by companies outside New Zealand, who are buying credits to offset their behavior against trees planted which would make it unaffordable for NZ farmers.
So Federated Farmers and other agricultural groups went to the Government to see if we could offer up a better plan. The Feds’ bottom lines were that we were only to be taxed on any additional atmospheric warming. There are those who struggle to understand that (and believe me it’s complex; we have policy staff and farmer members who have been working on this for years who struggle at times). An analogy of that concept is, if you filled a glass of beer and we were being taxed on any mess made, we would only pay tax on what overflows out of the glass. Not all the beer in the glass, because it has not added any more to the mess.
Other bottom lines were that any vegetation managed on farm that sequesters CO2 could be used to offset our tax liabilities, and that food production wouldn’t be compromised or moved offshore to other countries that have a higher CO2 footprint than ours. Keep in mind we have the lowest CO2 footprint per kilo of meat and dairy produced in the world.
So, did we get any of our bottom lines in the government’s counter-proposal? They have touched on sequestration but only in some situations. Now either a tree absorbs CO2, or it doesn’t.
But what has really upset the farming community is the Government modeling which suggests the result will be sheep and beef farming reduced by 20% and dairying by 5%. This is equivalent to the entire wine industry and half of the seafood industry being wiped out. This will rip the guts out of small-town NZ; I don’t want to see that happen to Fairlie.
The wholesale planting of trees on good sheep and beef country will dramatically increase. And to make matters worse – and these aren’t my words but the Government’s in their report – “that world agricultural emissions could increase not decrease”. Well, that makes it all worthwhile doesn’t?!
So, what can we do as a community? The Government has set up a 6-week consultation process. Hard to get excited about it. I’m not sure if they have listened in any of the consultation they have been involved in on any issue over the last 5 years, but we can only try. You can submit on https://consult.environment.govt.nz There is a list of consultation questions in the document that they are seeking feedback on. Some of it is quite complicated. Myself and South Canterbury Federated Farmers will be posting some important points to help with submitting. It would be great if locals and businesses could submit.
I want to finish by saying that all history, heritage and culture is important. My family’s history, heritage and culture is based around sheep and beef farming in rural communities. In fact, modern New Zealand history evolved off the back of sheep farming. All forms of farming today, whether it is horticulture, growing crops or dairy, was given a start by our first true industry which helped shape the living standard we enjoy today. It would be a damned shame for that history to disappear.