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Angus Kebbell explores why some farmers are feeling less than positive even in a time of good prices, favourable weather, and healthy markets. They are negative about the pace of imposed change

Rural News / opinion
Angus Kebbell explores why some farmers are feeling less than positive even in a time of good prices, favourable weather, and healthy markets. They are negative about the pace of imposed change
muddy gumboots

This week I have farmer Andrew Stewart joining me on the show for a yarn. There has been significant rainfall in the Rangitikei where he lives and farms over the past few days, and from what I gather some localised flooding has caused significant damage to a couple of farms in his area.

It was to good to talk with him and discuss some of the challenges facing farmers today. He wrote a letter to Jacinda Ardern a couple of years back which you can read below as it is still very much relevant today and he represents some farmers' sentiment well.


An open letter to our government and the farming leaders of New Zealand

Dear Jacinda:

For the first time in my farming career, which spans 16 years as an owner, and a lifetime on the same farm, I find myself doubting whether I would consider encouraging my two daughters into the agricultural profession.

This negativity has been created by proposed regulations regarding climate change and how we as farmers will have to cope with it, and ultimately pay for it.

Luckily my children are still young, at 7 and 4, and I can only hope I still have the time to help rectify this situation before it is too late.

I am writing this as a response to the bombardment of information that has spewed forth in the past couple of months regarding climate change obligations in agriculture.

As a sheep and beef farmer, this was supposed to be a year in which we enjoyed record high prices which is long overdue.

Instead I find myself struggling to comprehend why I would consider carrying on in an industry with such massive uncertainty about the future with little control over my own destiny.

I admit I am no climate change expert, but if you can show me someone who professes to be one, I would say they are either delusional or just flat-out lying.

It's my belief that in the area of climate change in agriculture we know so little about the hard facts that it is impossible to make educated decisions, let alone create long reaching legislation.

I have had an active interest in this subject for 15 years and still struggle with the science.

So now we are told that we must make a choice between two options regarding our future farming operations.

The proposed government plan which is the least palatable is a proposed processor levy or tax. The industry collaboration, Primary Sector Climate Change Commitment, is only slightly less repulsive for the average farmer.

Either way we would be signing up for generational obligations and taxes based on guess work and not hard science.

How can anyone claim to know how much methane a farm animal can produce over a year? And conversely, how do you accurately measure sequestration from native bush, pine trees, mānuka and grass, let alone the carbon in the soil?

In this respect, our farming leaders are leading us to the slaughter and that is simply unacceptable.

Well how about option three?

How about taking a breath and taking stock of what is happening in this beautiful country of ours without any overriding fear of legislation.

By Beef + Lamb NZ's own admission, our greenhouse gas profile in agriculture is well on track with our current international obligations.

"While the sheep and beef sector has already exceeded the 11 per cent below 1990 goal with its 19 per cent below 1990 emissions, it will need to maintain emissions reductions if the Government's wider goal of reducing New Zealand's emissions to 50 per cent of 1990 levels by 2050 is to be achieved. Emissions reductions for sheep and beef will need to continue at about the same rate as currently to meet the 2050 target" from the Beef + Lamb NZ website.

So, it seems that without any threat of obligations or legislation we already have proof that we are on the right track.

Not only that, but with the sale of large farms to forestry in recent months we could probably accurately predict some more reductions in the national sheep and beef flock with little difficulty.

Add to that the incredible amount of riparian planting of waterways, space planting of specimen trees and afforestation that is going on and I would strongly argue that our industry is in no need of further contributions to New Zealand's climate change obligations.

There is a wealth of information about this subject available to those interested in learning more, and I encourage all of us to learn as much as we can. But in terms of this letter I am talking about something that does not stem from the brain, it is from the gut and the heart.

In terms of the gut, I know my farm like no other person.

I see daily the 118 years of care, devotion and respect that has been poured into this slice of Aotearoa by four generations of my family.

It is indeed fifty shades of green and covered with a kaleidoscope of trees and plants that accentuate the landscape.

To suggest to me, as a sheep and beef farmer, that this farm and therefore my family are polluters makes me sick to the stomach. And if anyone, including you Jacinda, doesn't believe me I would be happy to show you for myself.

In terms of the heart, I never thought I would feel like I could not willingly pass on our farm to the next generation. That is not something that sits well with me and is the reason for this letter.

As leaders, sometimes it is forgotten what it means to lead. Our country faces the very real prospect of imploding if we do not tread carefully.

The level of division between rural and urban is at an all time high, and anti-farming sentiment is a very real concern.

It takes courage to take pause and sometimes go against popular opinion. I can only hope that you all as leaders listen to pleas such as this and take into consideration the effects your actions will have. As farmers, we are not only fighting for our own futures, but for the futures of our children. And that is one fight I am more than willing to take on. To see our beautiful farm for yourself visit:

Andrew’s letter is a passionate one and you can feel the weight of farmers behind it. He also raises some good points particularly around forestry and carbon farming.

Wholesale land-use change into exotic forestry for farming carbon and the ETS needs to be reigned in, and you can catch previous episodes which go into detail on this and there will be more in the future. Given that there has already been significant land converted into forestry – resulting in a decline in livestock numbers across all classes – and as a result farmers emissions have trended down, so you could argue that farmers should not be put under so much pressure and at the pace it is coming.

Listen to the podcast to get the full story and full perspectives.

Angus Kebbell is the Producer at Tailwind Media. You can contact him here.

We welcome your comments below. If you are not already registered, please register to comment.

Remember we welcome robust, respectful and insightful debate. We don't welcome abusive or defamatory comments and will de-register those repeatedly making such comments. Our current comment policy is here.


Impressed by the letter. Can guarantee it went in one ear of Jacinda's and out the other if read al loud to her.

James Shaw and his fellow travellers follow MSM, Al Gore, Michael Mann and Naomi Oreskes to the letter. Very little science involved and wholesale belief in the worst case scenarios produced by the UN political organisation ICCC reports.


The science is there , and Shaw and co know it inside out . 

It just doesn't fit your narrative .Which "science" are they are not aware of , or ignoring ? 


The most simply and obviously not science is the idea that methane can in any way be compared to CO2 over 100 years.

 The thinking that equates biological methane and fossil methane emissions as the same.

The idea that you can mitigate fossil fuel use by planting a tree, pure fantasy stuff.

Pure politics. So much easier than attacking the root cause, fossil fuel use as that will directly affect more voters.


I think the methane focus at cop 26 was because they saw  an easy "fix" avaliable. In that the USa and other big oil producers could make a quick and relatively cheap "fix " , by reducing the amount of methane leaking for m oil wells. 



How quaint to see that some climate dinosaurs still roam the earth.

Let me give you a few facts, even if you do find them 'inconvenient'. The level of CO2 in the atmosphere has been rising and will shortly hit 420ppm. This is shown very clearly in the Keeling Curve and similar readings come from Baring Head near Wellington. CO2 is a heat-trapping gas. This has been known since the mid 19th Cent. when it was isolated by the Tyndall, the Irish scientist. By the end of the 19th Cent. we had the Stefan-Boltzmann and Wein radiation laws and the work of Svante Arhennius, the Swedish Nobel Prize winning scientist.

I could bombard you with facts, but honestly, I can't be bothered. The climate isn't interested in your denial.


excluded and demonised!the stewart family seem,by their own advertising to be more "living the dream"with an idyllic lifestyle and various income streams.


As a farmer myself I still can't see why others have so many gripes. Look for opportunities and don't dwell on what others are doing. Many of these farms are doing well and if not there is allways the option to get out and let someone else have a go. Also no one is forcing forestry on to private land owners it is freedom of choice, stop moaning and get on with life.   Merry Xmas


"I have had an active interest in this subject for 15 years and still struggle with the science"

Really? if he is still struggling with the basic science-and it is basic- then it's hard to escape the conclusion that the science just doesn't fit his agenda.


I have been opposed to farmland being planted in pine trees however we made the recent decision to sell our marginally viable breeding block to forestry. We intend to use the proceeds to purchase better contoured land closer to town. So our windfall will end up being someone else's gain as the funds flow down the hill.

From a farming perspective at no point in this chain of sales and purchases will economic logic play a role. It is simply taking money we never thought we would be offered and parking the money when we see no better alternatives. 

There will be a point reached where there will be sufficient liquidity amongst farm purchasers to counter any further expansion of forestry unless we all chuck it in and move to the beach?.   



The market in action. It has allowed you to improve your lot - just like it has for many others. The money flows around just like it did when dairy paid "ridiculous" amounts for sheep and beef and forest land and people moved on to other things. Im always interested in the word "marginal" when used in farming. Either you make a profit or loss. Marginal means it dosn't make money but Ill carry on - having the chance to remove this from your business at a good profit and replace it with something more profitable is a great result.

Why do they have a farm stay tourism operation if farming is so profitable ? - rule one - if its working don't fix it. This is replicated all around NZ with Dryland farmers trying to diversify as its not sustainable to carry on doing what they did  - not a criticism at all just a reality and good on them for doing it. They are reacting positively to the market to maintain a viable lifetsyle/business.

As a large Southland farmer told me last week, hes planting a large area in trees now, an industry that makes a true business profit of 1% return or less will be taken over by something or else everyone will leave eventually.

Merry Christmas and everyone play Fred Daggs song on the day - We don't know how lucky we are


And the Footrot flats dog yelling . "plant more trees Wal ". 

Merry Xmas to you , Jack , I've learn't more reading your posts than trolling through all the MPI and other info sites. 



My use of the words 'marginally viable" means that the percentage return on the total assets invested is lower than the percentage cost of the debt portion. Which means we are earning less than mortgage interest on our equity. Which feels dumb to me. And so we sold to forestry where the return is sufficient to provide a decent return on equity.  



Whether it’s debt or equity you need to cover the interest cost. If you can use that debt or equity in another investment and cover the cost plus a margin above it’s a far better option as your moving ahead. Years ago I worked for a large very successful fund and this covering the cost of capital, debt or equity, was the underlying start point. Makes sense as then you can use either. Made for some tough calls but stopped biased decisions and the investments they did make were very successful. They weren’t scared to let things go that on the face you thought would be great.

All the best with your new investment and hopefully it more than covers it’s interest cost and improves your profits.


Looking at the photos of his farm , he has indeed got some nice trees growing there. If they are post 1990 , with a bit more planting he could be claiming carbon credits , averaged on the age of the existing post 1990 trees.

 A look at the returns from that , may change his ideas 


See the problem here is they've been saying for 20 years "the pace of change is too fast, we need more time", with a side of more obfuscating by pulling out dodgy industry-funded studies to try and claim nothing needs to be done anyway. The pace of change needed to cut emissions will only increase the more they drag their feet.


I'm not sure why farmers make the claim that if some farms convert to forestry this absolves them of responsibility for GHG emissions? Isn't that a bit like saying I can still drive my dirty inefficient truck because someone else has scrapped theirs for an EV??


The problem I have is the solution is emissions trading. The solution should be emissions reduction. In any scenario that allows business sharp practice the cost of carbon will be manipulated by those with the best lawyers. Big business has always outsmarted governments who buy into their rhetoric. I opted out of the ETS when it was introduced preferring to grow my trees and manage them as I want not claiming any carbon credits.