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TOP's Geoff Simmons sees farmers getting increasingly frustrated having to contend with an emissions proposal that will do little except require massive paperwork, while facing water quality policies that have no detail

TOP's Geoff Simmons sees farmers getting increasingly frustrated having to contend with an emissions proposal that will do little except require massive paperwork, while facing water quality policies that have no detail
Source=[http://www.flickr.com/photos/42033648@N00/457542539/ Indeed they do - Awatere Valley, Marlborough, New Zealand, 13 April 2007

Most Kiwis want to see stronger action on the environment. Water quality is top concern at over 80%, followed by climate change at well over 60%. At the same time, most Kiwis don’t want to send farmers out of business in the process. 

TOP has previously set out our vision for farming in 2050. The question is: how do we get there? We think this government has made some serious blunders in the way they’ve rolled out their environmental agenda for farmers. While the climate change proposals seem to have been largely accepted, the Government now faces a huge backlash on their water quality proposals. 

This is a real shame because the water quality issue will have a much larger impact on farming, and is more important to the Kiwi public. Sadly it seems the current proposals will turn farmers off when we need them on side. Many farmers see themselves as guardians of the land and want to farm in a way that is friendly to the environment. Sure, there are some poor performers – but there are poor performers in any industry. We have to get buy-in from the majority of farmers to make this work. 

Let’s look at the climate and water quality policies from a farmer’s perspective and work out why they have worked out so differently. 

Climate change

First up, we had the Zero Carbon Bill and the proposal to make farmers responsible for their emissions. Thanks to the work of the Interim Climate Change Committee, the Government was able to present a decent idea of how that might all be implemented. The Government confirmed that they would take the advice of the Committee and set up a new system for farmers to pay for their emissions. This will be different to the Emissions Trading Scheme and operate at a farm level, not the processor level. Sure, it will take five years to work through the details, but at least it looks doable. 

Farmers seemed to have accepted the need to address nitrous emissions, but have questioned the Government over methane. There are legitimate questions over how methane should be treated, and whether farmers have any real mitigation options other than reducing stock numbers. 

This will hopefully be worked through in the detail of the new farm based system. Regardless, the exemption for 95% of farming emissions (argued for by New Zealand First) rendered the whole idea pretty harmless. 

Forestry

The other big climate change issue for farmers is the impact of forestry. Currently, trees are the only way to offset emissions – although hopefully wetlands and soil carbon will be added in the future. The Government proposal will rightly allow farmers to plant trees on their own farms as an offset for their other emissions. 

However, forestry will remain part of the Emissions Trading Scheme. As a result, it looks likely that large amounts of farmland will be bought up and planted with pine for carbon credits. This raises the spectre of New Zealand getting to 2050 without having reduced our fossil fuel emissions and having simply planting trees instead. The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment thinks this is a dumb idea and that forestry should only be used as an offset for farming. This issue is creating huge uncertainty for land-owners but the Government seems set to stick with the status quo - perhaps because planting trees is the only thing all 3 coalition partners can agree on. The long term implications of this could be huge. 

Water quality

Next up we come to the Government’s proposed freshwater reforms. Compared to the watered down emissions proposals, these reforms have real teeth. When fully implemented, they could completely change the way we farm in some parts of the country (particularly Canterbury). If we achieved these fresh water goals, the impact of making agriculture pay for emissions would pale into insignificance. 

However, compared to the climate proposals, very little thought has been given to implementation. Let’s take the example of nitrogen leaching. Which farmers will have to reduce leaching, and by how much? How will any reductions be measured and enforced? Should those who have caused pollution pay? These tend to be the same farmers who have invested heavily in more intensive farming methods. Or should farmers who farm less intensively, and have invested less, bear some of the burden? Until these questions are answered, there will be a great deal of uncertainty and resistance in the farming community. And rightly so – these questions will have a huge impact on land values and will pit low intensity farmers (sheep & beef, forestry and low impact dairy) against the high intensity ones. 

Uncertainty

For farmers, paperwork has become a bigger and bigger part of the job, and many are already stretched on this front. Both the climate proposals and water reforms will add to this workload, particularly since they are not being implemented in an integrated fashion. With climate, there will be a lot of paperwork for very little change since 95% of emissions are exempt. You have to ask: why are we bothering? It would be simpler to just bring fertiliser companies into the ETS, which make up about 5% of farming emissions. We could do that now, not in 2025. 

We have a better idea of how the system will work for emissions than for water quality. Why hasn’t more thought gone into the implementation of the freshwater reforms? The answer may be simply that New Zealand First wouldn’t have agreed to them if they had really understood the impact. 

Regardless, new tools and a new industry of farm environment advisers will need to be created to work with farmers on their Farm Environment Plans. Given the complexity of the issues and the individuality of different farms, this will be difficult to avoid. While the Government has invested money in Overseer – the likely tool for measuring water quality improvements – it has done very little to build the support industry that will no doubt be needed. It may sound like a bizarre concept, but the farming industry needs an independent source of advice that isn’t tied to the big fertiliser companies. Besides, we used to have state farm advisers back in the day! 

Even if we had an army of farm advisers, there are legitimate questions over how Farm Environment Plans could be enforced. Will they be legally binding? And of course, environmental organisations are worried that if they aren’t binding, they will be no more than scraps of paper with nice words. 

In short, government bureaucrats have put enormous effort into an emissions proposal that will do bugger all, whereas the comparatively massive issue of water quality is being tackled head on with very little detail. No wonder farmers are pissed off! 

We welcome your help to improve our coverage of this issue. Any examples or experiences to relate? Any links to other news, data or research to shed more light on this? Any insight or views on what might happen next or what should happen next? Any errors to correct?

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43 Comments

17
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Around us and I suspect the rest of the country it's poor performance by regional council's that have caused our problems.
Unelected officials gave massive water consents sometimes over 10million m3. They consented surface takes which are still operating. The resulting low flows concentrate nutrient and ecoli levels. Then they consented feedlots, which are still operating, a lot of water goes into grass for cows where %80 is evaporated,and flushes waste through light stoney soils into aquifer.
Our regional council now wants us all to get consent to farm when our farm environment plans show we are way below limits.They want to do catchment limits so they can hide their derilictiion of duty, and continue to support large polluters, keeping farm environment plans away from public view so we cannot see where the problema are.
our regional council has increased rates %43 In three years ,%10 increase next year, and bringing rate payment forward six months from Feb to September, they are are a failed institution, unfit for purpose, run by mandarins failing our community.

11
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In Havelock north 7 people died from e coli, from a bovine source. At this time our regional council was watching ecoli levels in several streams below feedlots reach extreme levels and it failed to act even though the NPSFWM required them to act and was binding on council's. They should have been prosecuted in a criminal court, in fact if there is still time we should do it.

10
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LG workers do not get prosecuted no matter howbad the derilection of duty period.
Currently there's a contractor working in our local river, literally in, even to the extent of changing the whole river channel. They're mulching ALL the vegetation on the banks and deep ripping the single beds. The destruction to Flora and fauna is quite unbelievable and no matter what the reason if a ordinary Joe or Josephine was responsible they'd be locked up and the key biffed. Our regional council has the port of Tauranga as a cash cow so spending like this is easy.

It is easy to mouth off. And there are many people who suffered, even died, due to that event. However, please keep the discussion factually correct.
I think you will find that the contamination of the Havelock North water was from a ruminant source - not specifically bovine.
And the problem stemmed from inadequate protection of the bore to prevent contaminated surface water or water from the unconfined surface acquifer tracking down the bore liner and contaminating the confined acquifer water.

That's crap, they tried to put onto a handful of sheep, but it came out that tuki tuki water took less than 24hours to get to bore. papanui , tukipo river ecoli extreme, lowest invertebrate count in country, dead streams flowing into tuki tuki all with a lot of irrigated dairy farms and feedlots.

Andrew. It is you who are writing crap rather than the animals dropping it. You live in a fact free fantasy world.There are no dairy farms within 30km of Havelock North. And the farms are in a different catchment. The feedlots are also in a different catchment.
The contaminated water came from a bore in Brookvale Road. The report, if you stopped confirming your prejudices and actually read it, showed the contamination came from a pond about 100m away. And it was all sheep. Here is a precis of the report that even you should understand.
https://www.waternz.org.nz/Attachment?Action=Download&Attachment_id=2667
When you apologise for getting it all wrong, then maybe you have something to add. Until then, you are just an idiotic troll.

I actually have a friend who lived right alongside the bore. I find the idea it came from sheep ridiculous. It may have come from the pond,either way, the deteriorating water quality in the tukituki where dogs have died ,should be of concern. I won't let my farm dogs swim in the papanui stream because I'm worried I'm going to lose them. Council's are masters of covering their butts. I'm in starship hospital because my granddaughter has e coli from our farm spring which now been contaminated, I told my neighbors and they apparently all got sick last year, installed uvfilter, wish they had told me.

The blue green algae that kills dogs is always there in the water, just normally at so low a concentration that it is no issue. It is a big problem now because of low river flows, particularly in warm weather and the nutrient levels in river increasing. The Hutt River is notorious for the problem and there aren't many farms on it.https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/health/100677186/toxic-algae-more-deadl...
Note the statement "Somewhat ironically, the algae grows in good quality water ".

Sorry to hear about your granddaughter, Andrew. I can imagine how absolutely angry you would be given the explosion of feedlots in your area. It really is just shocking what RC's have allowed to happen. It's really shameful that our environmental regulators have let us down so, so badly.

Why don't you come on down with your family and have a swim in the papanui stream with extreme levels of ecoli and nitrates and God knows what else.

Chis, you obviously have good access to data so you may wish to comment on Andrews other statement that the streams in the area are technically dead because of the high e- coli levels.

PWS - the data on ecoli is not good. as it is hard to get representative info. Heavy rain after a long dry will give an artificially high value. The sensible data is to use medians as people don't usually go swimming in floods but the government's new policy is to use extremes as they show the water is dirtier than reality, so needs extra legislation. However, the monitoring shown here (https://statisticsnz.shinyapps.io/river_water_quality_ecoli_apr17/) indicates that rural HB is at levels safe for stock water or secondary contact (swimming), The rivers aren't "clean" but in general they are getting better. A major problem in the HB is the town sewage schemes don't do their job, and there are still too many septic tanks, but it is easier to blame dairying.
The rivers aren't "technically dead". Andrew is just a blowhard with no facts behind him. The perfect Greens supporter.

The website you want for the data is LAWA.

Here's the info for Papanui Stream at Middle Road
https://www.lawa.org.nz/explore-data/hawkes-bay-region/river-quality/tuk...

And for the Tukituki - there are multiple sites monitored;
https://www.lawa.org.nz/search?argument=tukituki

John Roil a Hasting Counciler at the time of the H'Nth water issue had an illegal toilet with a 45 gallon drum as the systic system not 2 Km's from the infected well.
Did he report it as a possible contamination point??? No he did not!
FACT with evidence if anyone was looking at furthing a legal case.

He should be ashamed of himself but this was a ruminant source, ecoli levels in streams around me are at extreme levels, but the best the council can do is supply water tests from 2014!

Hope all goes well for your granddaughter, Andrew - it can be a worrying time.
There is a common misconception that e-coli from sheep is less of a problem than from dairy. From the Beef and Lamb website:When comparing agricultural land uses, sheep and beef farming and dairy farming contribute similar E.coli loadings into waterways, despite the typically much higher stocking rates in dairy farms. Studies have found 5 sheep/ha can deliver up to 10 times the loading of E.coli/ha, compared with dairy cattle grazing at 3 cows/ha. https://beeflambnz.com/compliance/environment/dung-and-waterways
Mallard ducks have 17times the loading of e-coli than cows.
Start a catchment group Andrew. Then the community takes ownership of the water quality problems.

We are now all having to get consent, treating it as catchment issue. I read that sheep poo less and it dries fast, the share volumes of cattle on feedlots have overloaded the environment

We need to separate Climate Change issues from Water quality issues .... these a two very different unrelated issues requiring 2 very different approaches .

That some rivers are polluted is a fact , and we need to address this .

The issue of methane from our cows needs to be dealt with more rationally and sensibly , as there is insufficient evidence that cows from little old New Zealand is doing irreparable harm to the planet

Methane should never have been included in NZ's GHG inventory.

A member of our council told me they had problems getting overseer to work with feed lots, but was rather proud that they managed to contort it so much after a lot of work that they gave feedpads consent.

Your comment is on the money.

In some parts of this country, Local & Regional Councils have been corrupted by unethnical Councillors and their executive who have pampered to a select bunch of business people who are nothing more than bullies.

The solution is to turnover the executive management every five years, to break the more than cosy relationships which have established. Then send in the FMA to examine the large deals that have been made over the five year period.

Some of the businesses involved have strong Central Government connections too, and its not hard to work out who they are. Follow the money and the Sir and Dame get out of jail free cards.

I was amazed that our council treated water consents like ownership, a freebee from an unelected council official who decided who the previlaged few where. When I suggested reducing volumes the indignation from council staff who insisted they would have to compensate farmers, give it away for free but then it's as good as gold, crazy stuff. Also council made sure consents were renewed for often from what I understand 35 years. I'm with you turf out staff it's not hard to find fresh people on these huge slaries , while the minyons doing the work are lucky to be on 50k.

I talked to a friend in Wellington,he told me, the reason the govt is bringing in its own fresh water management policy is that it doesn't trust regional council's.
That tells us a lot about where interests of council CEOs on over 300k a year lies.

Exactly. Good on them too. Nanaia Mahuta is a quite achiever - the 'three waters' review will I suspect see not only drinking water, but stormwater and wastewater systems management being taken back by CG. LG has failed woefully in all three areas.

Agree in thinking there are two streams of work here.
1. climate change - atmosphere emissions
2. Nutrient loading, ground emissions.

Both streams of work are showing signs of fundamental failure in the planning stage. There failures are related to skills and experience of the govt. Projects don't get better as they go on!

Both streams of work need 'project resets'.
Going back to the stakeholders saying there is a massive stuff up and preliminary works need be wripped out and started again and/actually completed.

Stream 1. There is a fundamental mistake in claiming its relative importance to the well being of our community. Refer the IPCC economic analysis.

Stream 2. There is an absence of work. The foundation analysis and establishment is missing, incomplete. This makes the policy and legislation rediculous as it's analytical language/framework is missing.

I expect more back tracking from PM dept, like pushing out ag in their ETS, as PM dept, give ground but don't know why.

Methane is not understood at all .............. did you know that Natural Gas is 90% Methane ? ( Natrual Gas which we use for everything from cooking to generating electricity is 90% methane )

Methane is also produced by Hot Springs

Did you know that Rotorua is the biggest emitter of Methane in the country , so why not make the town's hotel sector part of the ETS on the hotsprings from which they derive their income ?

On a global level , there are seven major sources of atmospheric methane: emission from anaerobic decomposition in (1) natural wetlands; (2) paddy rice fields; (3) emission from Humans (4) emissions from livestock production systems (including intrinsic fermentation and animal waste); (5) biomass burning (including forest fires, charcoal combustion, and firewood

On 19 Oct I wrote the comment that the influence of methane, CH4, on global warming is negligible.
Here it is again, it shows that it is just totally wrong science.

I can understand why farmers are upset, methane has so very little influence on the warming of the atmosphere that it's hardly worth taking in to account as a green-house gas.
Watch this explanation:

The Methane Big Lie: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_6LsoiyVTII

Geoff Simmons. Yes the TOP frount man but what if anything is he qualified as and his work history....
Is he worth listering to more than Lord St Brian of disantary church? Their polling figures were not that far apart.

Well over 60% of kiwis want to see action on climate change - but less than 5% offset their CO2 when flying AirNZ. 95% of kiwis aren't deluded enough to think they can change the climate? There is a big virtue signal gap.

The best global estimate of the total water needed (green + blue + grey) to produce a litre of milk is about 1020 litres. Unfortunately, I know of no global estimates of the irrigation requirement, but total agricultural water use accounts for about 70% of total water withdrawals globally' now that's delusional.

A litre of wine takes about 750litres of water. All ag and industrial processes use water. Forget global frazz and stick to NZ. 60% of all consented water in NZ goes to the Manapouri power station and it takes up to 95% of river water out and doesn't return it. Ag is only part of the of the remaining 40% of consented takes ag.

I drink wine then and lets flag the dairy. Cleaner rivers and rose outlook.

Just make sure its from a NZ owned label and not supporting the 80% of vineyards which are now foreign owned. ;-) Cleaner potable water could be challenged, but definitely a rose outlook. There is a reason some horticulture/viticulture areas have to test potable water for chemical/spray contamination. And as for those that don't require it - ignorance is bliss ;-)

Frazz forget dairy - you need to set your angst on those tourists using Fiordland National Park. Biggest water user in NZ for a few pitiful tourists who fly here on CO2 spewing planes - oh the humanity! Or perhaps head back to school and learn about the water cycle?

Will enrol if you do Profile sounds like we both need more education. Yes agree let's forget dairy...dying industry that cannot support itself unless it pollutes the environment.
tatistics from FarmingUK’s 2018/2019 report, shared at a recently held Dairy Show, found that comparable farm profits dropped from 5.9p per liter (£383 per cow) to 2.69p per liter (£131 per cow) in the first quarter of 2019.

The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) reported that since February, 30-35 dairy farmers have quit the industry with only around 8,820 dairy producers left in Great Britain.

Defra statistics published in June also highlighted that the population of milk yielding bovines more than two years old has dipped by 1.1 percent.

Plant based milk

While the depreciation in dairy profits has been attributed to an unusually dry summer, increased costs and Brexit uncertainty, most dairy farmers pinpoint the rise in plant based-milk as a major contributing factor in the declining dairy demand.

A recent study by Mintel found that 25 % of Brits now choose plant milk and the demand for dairy milk is consistently shrinking.

Alternative milks made from oats, almonds and coconuts has surged by 10% in two years with oat milk registering a 70% surge in 2018.

“This is part of a much wider plant-based movement, driven by concerns around health, ethics and the environment,” said Emma Clifford, associate director of UK food and drink at Mintel.

John Campbell interview with HBRC, one of the greats

https://www.rnz.co.nz/national/programmes/checkpoint/audio/201813134/hawke's-bay-regional-council-chairman-on-water-contamination

If you saw Jacinda Ardern on TV3 this morning , you would have sworn that the farmers were 100% behind this idiocy .

Clearly its not the case .

The ETS is just another tax of such complexity , it defies logic

Worldwide livestock makes up 37% of methane from living, breathing things ............. guess where the rest is from ?

Humans .

....... internationally the dominant sources of methane are rice paddies and wetlands, not farm animals.
https://www.landcareresearch.co.nz/science/greenhouse-gases/agricultural...

The IPPC attributes methane to the following:

Natural wetlands 115
Rice Paddies 110
Ruminants 80
Gas drilling 45
Biomass burning 40
Termites 40
Landfills 40
Coal mining 35

https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2018/03/ipcc_far_wg_I_full_repor...

Sure Doris, do trust the IPCC, everything they say is the truth... or perhaps not.
They left this out of their attributes.

Volcanoes and glaciers combine as powerful methane producers
https://phys.org/news/2018-11-volcanoes-glaciers-combine-powerful-methan...

A study of Sólheimajökull glacier, which flows from the active, ice-covered volcano Katla, shows that up to 41 tonnes of methane is being released through meltwaters every day during the summer months. This is roughly equivalent to the methane produced by more than 136,000 belching cows.

And see my above comment on CH4.

Doris, re wetlands - yes and this govt is going gung ho getting farmers to create wetlands. Will they give us an exemption in the future for any emissions from such initiatives. A classic case of what is good for water quality/biodiversity is not necessarily good for ghg emissions.

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Days to the General Election: 36
See Party Policies here. Party Lists here.