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Despite shrill glee from Greenpeace, Guy Trafford shows that livestock numbers are falling naturally - even dairy cows - and with the ETS carbon price rises, there is no need for agriculture to feel especially threatened

Despite shrill glee from Greenpeace, Guy Trafford shows that livestock numbers are falling naturally - even dairy cows - and with the ETS carbon price rises, there is no need for agriculture to feel especially threatened

The Climate Change Commission Report has been released. Presumably there have been others apart from the media that have been awaiting this, however, when so much of our daily lives revolving around the immediate threat of COVID and responses to that, it must be hard for Joe Public to raise too much enthusiasm.

The youth that organised the mass marches on January 26th barely got a mention. They do seem to be doomed to constantly have to compete with ‘noise’ on the media coming from other more immediate newsworthy events. The threat of another COVID outbreak was likely what relegated them this year. Yet despite this the Report certainly has caught the attention of groups with vested interest in what has been proposed. At this stage the report is being ‘put out’ for consultation with the final draft going to Government in May.

It does highlight the issues of the inadequacies of previous governments lack of action and that the chickens are starting to come home to roost. The key finding has been that the measures to be taken as laid out pre the last elections to satisfy the Paris Agreement will not actually meet New Zealand’s aim of being Zero Carbon by 2050 and further measures need to be taken to achieve this.

Actions to be taken would involve heavily downsizing the fossil fuels industries and a projected 1,000 – 1,700 jobs will disappear (including those already ear marked).  A major move into more electrifying of transport will be required (including public, private, light and heavy). Also, the Report indicates that while tree planting is important there should be less reliance on it to solve the problem and basically New Zealand has to reduce its total rate of emissions.

Depending upon how you read the draft, from a Primary Industries perspective, there may not be a lot to be threatened by it that has not already been laid out. Agriculture is already committed to reducing emissions, although not fast enough for many, livestock numbers are reducing and new technologies are being introduced.

However, pressure will be applied from multiple quarters especially when other sectors start to (finally) feel some pain and they perceive agriculture emissions are the problem. The Commissions report has implied that a 15% reduction in the national herd and flock size would be required to help the country meet its targets by 2030.

Beef and sheep farmers would have reason to feel aggrieved if this was foisted upon them.

Since 1991 Beef cattle numbers have reduced by 15% and Sheep by 53%.

  Beef numbers
1991 4,670,569  
2010 3,948,520 84.5%
2020 3,950,000 84.6%
  Total fall -15%
  Average fall pa % -0.53%

 

  Sheep numbers
1991 55,161,643  
2010 32,562,612 59.0%
2020 26,160,000 47.4%
  Total fall -53%
  Average fall pa % -1.81%

Beef have actually been pretty static for the last 10 years but sheep although slowing have continued to decline. With the expansion of horticulture and arable crops it is highly likely number reductions in these sectors will look after themselves without any overt political interference.

Also, while the Commission is advising not to rely on trees if the price of carbon on the ETS goes up to $140 per tonne as suggested then the most economic use of much of New Zealand’s steeper and poorer country will (continue) to go into trees.

The ETS was devised to let economics do much of the ‘heavy lifting’ in getting New Zealand’s net emissions down and if the constraints (a current floor of $20 and cap of $50 at the moment) are removed, then it may actually start to achieve that. Currently carbon is priced at $38.50 per tonne and forward contracts for 2025 are already at $44.50.

Of course, the elephant in the room is dairying and with a near doubling of cow numbers in the last 30 years it makes an attractive target.

  Dairy cow numbers
1991 3,249,427  
2010 5,915,452 172%
2017 6,529,811 190%
2020 6,110,000 178%

However, even dairying has reduced numbers by around 6% over the last three years and if this trend continues then it too may meet future requirements without having to make too many enforced sacrifices.

It was interesting hearing a Senior Campaigner for Greenpeace, Steve Abel, immediately attacking the dairy industry when asked for a comment on the report. He said New Zealand should be leading the way with technology and innovation in the farming sector and yet confined his ideas to a 50% cut in dairy cow numbers. This is despite New Zealand dairy farmers being proved to have the lowest rate of carbon emissions for any dairy producers worldwide.

New Zealand has always prided itself as a world leader in many areas ranging from the nuclear free movement to social equity and the argument has rightly been made that by showing how it can be done New Zealand lights the path for other countries to follow.

However, I would argue that the changes around climate change are a different category. If we put ourselves too far out in front of the pack, and this only applies to agriculture as we are lagging well behind other countries in what we are proposing elsewhere, then we risk suffering the fate of being the first mouse to the cheese.

Competing nations in agriculture are adopting best practise where they can, but even the Paris Agreement put agriculture into a different category and was very reluctant to see food production lost for gains in emission reductions.

All countries have to be seen to be doing their fair share of carrying the emission reduction load and now with the USA re-joining the conversation and China having lifted their aspirations on reductions, globally the outlook is far more promising than it was a year or two ago.

Agriculture is changing and making considerable gains in productivity versus carbon emissions, it also needs to continue to make gains.

However, it is too important to let become to the sacrificial lamb to make a point to other nations who are doing a lot less and competing with us in international markets.

The draft report is open for consultation until March 14th and the final ‘advice’ will be released to Parliament on May 31st. No doubt this is when the real conversations will begin.

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32 Comments

We are also achieving around 1% annual productivity increases in agriculture which encompass decreasing wastage (genomics are important here), faster growth and improved growth. So while I was sceptical yesterday that a 40% increase in meat in 15 years was possible (25% increase in meat on a 20% reduction), the status quo (of continuous improvement) will get us halfway there.

People just hate dairying in this country, despite it being the best in terms of carbon emissions. Farmers have to win people back - calling smear campaigners names (such as the dirty dairying crowd) won't help. IS there a possibility that other countries could somehow pay NZ farmers carbon credits since they're so good?

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“People just hate dairying in this country”
Can’t believe that is the majority of NZ more likely only the noisy ones that get the MSM attention.

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It's pretty normal to go out and socialise and meet at least one person who vocally hates dairy farmers. It's pretty much guaranteed, I guess most people don't have to put up with that negative energy every time they go out.

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We should consider dairy farming offsets, combined with a payment for ecosystem services by way of wetland restoration on their properties;

https://www.forestandbird.org.nz/resources/restoring-peat-wetlands-our-…

Cows down, ecosystems services up - win-win. I haven't yet read the CCC's report but it sounds like all their 'solutions' are punitive, as opposed to restorative.

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I like your idea about offsets Kate.. in many (granted not all) cases farm carbon capture is well established - just not measured, and this is the problem imo. Kilometres of shelter belts don't comply even though they obviously capture carbon, similarly with pasture carbon capture and riparian plantings and regen native blocks. If farms are to be included in the ETS then it's only fair to count their contribution to carbon capture in total as well as their carbon release.

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No Kate - that's not going to work (which is why Hook will like it).

You cannot offset something which you are digging up and introducing to the above-ground environment. Everything up there is doing somethin now, and the restoration of wetlands should only be seen as redressing a depletion already done.

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No matter what people do or suggest there will always be a DGM merchant waiting to rain on the parade. I'm surprised you haven't just cut to the chase and ended your physical contribution to the problem.
BTW - why wouldn't offsets work? An encouragement rather than an imposition.

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PDK.. hello, hello.. where are you? As usual no answer to a direct question - just mantra chanting blather ad infinitum

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Second word in caption suggests shrills at play. Shrills aplenty nowadays I would suggest. The bit has been placed in the teeth of the green horse, out of left field, ready to rip. God defend New Zealand.

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Offsets are just part of the bull$&-+ science that allows other industry and individuals including climate experts to BAU. As PDK said once that black stuff is dug up and put in the atmosphere that's it.
Of course if they can then why can't agri.

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Work in what way? I agree that encouraging wetland restoration (and hence retiring the associated pasture) isn't going to make one iota of difference to our present rate of depletion of fossil fuel/ancient carbon stores.

But they are good for the atmosphere (i.e., as carbon sinks) and good for plant/animal biodiversity and freshwater purification - so I believe we could relieve farmers of some of their tax obligations as a means to improve the environment. I usually use the words 'payment for ecosystem services' only - and should have kept it to that this time. But, thanks to the UNFCCC/IPCC framework, 'offsets' has become the buzz-word/idea instead.

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Don't wetlands = methane?

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Yes. Noted before we can be so pleased we destroyed 90% of NZs .

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Kate - we are currently actively submitting via draft District Plan processes to change the District Plans so that Farmers are "financially incentivised" to restore wetlands and plant out marginal land area in natives. This can be done easily by a quid pro quo option where Farmers spend the money doing this and in return get new lifestyle block titles which they can either produce on their farm or transfer to a suitably zoned area.

The benefits of this option are huge for both the environment and us farmers and it also will help the satisfy the huge demand for lifestyle living that we are seeing as a result of covid.

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Whatever way you cut and dice there is well over 1 million ha of eroding land that is being farmed that needs to be in some form of forest cover. The report says a lot of this is native, we need around another 1 million ha of native by 2050 - sounds good to me. Fundamentally farming this land is not sustainable - a lot has over 1 tonne - yes 1 tonne - of soil a year per sq km going out to sea. No one can defend that (but they will) so sorry change has to happen. We will need more wood fibre to supply biomass and biofuel as well so more production forests needed - 380k ha more they say. They also point out in the report the production forest generates 2x as many jobs as farming this land - ( I can hear the cries starting now but this is independent and based upon real numbers - not Trump alternative facts) so around 1.4 million ha of land to go to forest of which 1 million is native.
The sheep losses have primarily been from Dairy, Hort and Urban take - they have lost the top end of land and hence numbers drop. Further losses will be at the other end which is just uneconomic to farm - talked to a farmer the other day - lost $30,000 shearing his sheep in direct costs after wool sales(would be far higher putting the growing cost portion in as well). How long can this be sustained - combine with a drought and lower meat prices (which will happen in the near future as it always does) and its not pretty. I would be looking for a change no matter what to simply survive.

A past way of life is changing - the trends clearly show this but people hang on with their fingernails. Brutal honesty is needed but it wont happen and it will be someone elses fault.

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The Ministry cant tell us where soil in the Mohaka river is coming from, is it farmland or the Kaweka ranges? After 50 mls of rain, the Mohaka runs brown and the farm creeks run clear. Secondly, wind erosion from bare ground caused by spraying and cultivating ground, both for cropping and tree planting is also considerable. Travel the Heretaunga plains in spring and see it for yourself. The depth of a 10c coin amounts to 14 T of soil /Ha. Soil erosion also happens on flatland after rain if it does not infiltrate. It is fungi and biology that bind soil and allow water to infiltrate, regardless of slope. Biodiversity increases both. Contorta pine forests on the Kaweka ranges are devoid of bird noise.

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Logging creates far more erosion than farming, but you sound like an expert on what other people should do with their own land and own business.
Tell me why you care about topsoil so much that you would replace farmland with scrub or pine trees?

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Read the HBRC report on soil loss and what needs to be done. Long list of soil and farm scientists wrote it. I’m just saying what they and the HBRC are saying. Listen to the science or are they wrong? They are saying we need more native, exotic trees on this land to stop the erosion that’s occurring. The truth hurts.

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The Interesting thing about the proposal for native forest planting on a massive scale, is this. Assuming most of aforesaid Planting is to occur on poor/marginal/low-ag-value land, establishing natives in such locations is actually direly hard. One proven way is the Milnthorpe Model, which over the span of nearly half a century has turned poor initial native planting results (on predominantly Onahau soils with extensive iron pan) into a thriving ecosystem, by using exotics (mainly eucalypts) to provide canopy and build humus, and underplanting with natives once that canopy was achieved. This did not please the purists/nativists, but has produced a brilliant result including re-establishment of bird populations and wetlands (the latter with a little help from FF-fueled excavators). It's administered and tended by a local trust, and has walking tracks open to the public, just between Onekaka and Collingwood (Golden Bay, Tasman). Highly recommended as a real example of regeneration from a very unpromising start.

In short, the path to extensive, successful native plantings on marginal land could very likely be through - Mo' Exotics......

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Using Eucs as a cover crop is a great idea and nowhere near as ecologically destructive as pine - no wildings and no acidifying needles

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Good link

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Just Google Dr Adam Forbes to see what you can do with exotics to native - there are issues mainly exotic grass, deer, goats and you do need to manage the exotic trees out over a long time but it does work.
Yep - funny in the one of our pine blocks we now have kiwi that rather would live in the pines than the native - they wont go back to the native even when we tried to move them they all came back. We wont be logging it now. Native Falcon love pine forest as well along with the Tui, Pigeons, fantails, bellbirds etc etc that make so much noise as I walk through these terrible pine forests.
The Golden bay is a classic example and there's many more around NZ. Simply planting natives is very hard and expensive and high failure rates. Natural regen like Hinewai on Banks Peninsula is another. If anyone says Hugh Wilson doesn't know what hes doing they would be a brave person or very deluded.

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Our Kaka head from the native every morning into the pine. Our house is under their flight path. Return every night. Rather have the native any day though. The fire risk of the pine gives me the willies.

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Indeed, Jack. And Hugh has always extolled the value of Old Man Gorse as canopy, nitrogen-fixing and humus production. Gorse gets shaded out and dies once the forest happens. But, and as with Milnthorpe, the timescales are measured in half-centuries.....so no quick 'Let's Do this 'ere Native Forest' slogans from On High are gonna work out. That's not much use for Zero Carbon 2050......

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I agree and I’ve given up pointing time frames out to people. Native is good but it will take the whole of this century to get higher forest started as most people recognise native forest. But it’s what people want.
I agree with the CCC we need to actually cut emissions and can’t plant our way out of this. Trees will help as we will need wood fibre to replace carbon intensive products. I see no resistance from the forest industry to much lower areas of pine and heaps more native. Farmers say they wanted more native well here it is and now it’s radio silence on getting this as they have to actually do it now.
Time for talk over, time for action now on the farm.

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Quite frankly I think the hotter summers have done my 15%. I have quite a lot less stock on these days. In saying that it doesnt seem to be another record breaking hot summer thank goodness. The last 3 were atrocious.

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All this has me wondering how the government actually knows how many sheep and cattle there are in NZ. I can only guess that it comes from Statistics NZ from the annual production survey which comes to many farmers every year, and then the figures are extrapolated out from the survey as a best guess estimate of the total numbers. My question is what happens if every farmer who fills these surveys out starts to reduce their stock numbers just by the swipe of a pen, and over the next few years continue to drop the figures by the 15% wanted by the report? An easy fix I would say. Because let’s face it, farmers will not earn more money by having smaller herds and secondly if we do reduce stock numbers it only means another less efficient country will start to produce more to fill up the loss in global supply.

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The Big F and other, smaller, processors, will have the dairy herd figures down to the last cow-in-milk. They're updated on the data platforms, every pick-up. That isn't the entire dairy herd of course (add culls, dries, heifers etc), but it's easily the best and most reliable figure. I would not trust SNZ data as far as I could throw it......

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Microsoft is buying carbon credits from beef farmer.
https://www.farmweekly.com.au/story/7105542/microsoft-buys-carbon-credi….

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Are the reductions in beef and sheep numbers because of landuse conversions to dairy and not really reductions at all?

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I see that some farmers say there is switching to dairy https://farmersweekly.co.nz/section/agribusiness/view/ccc-report-suppor…

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