Be careful what you wish for.

New Zealand produces enough food to feed about 40 million people but given our population is just

5 million the majority of our food production is exported.

Some examples of such NZ exports are: 95 percent of the dairy it produces ($15.82billion); 87 percent of the beef ($3.7 billion); 94 percent of the sheep ($3.89 billion); 90 percent of the kiwifruit ($2.68 billion); 90 percent of the seafood ($1.6 billion); 85 percent of the onions ($0.15 billion); 86 percent of the apples ($0.91 billion); 85 percent of the wine ($2.01 billion) and 46 percent of the honey ($ 0.51 billion).

We recently saw the report from the Climate Commission and one of the recommendations was to:

Cull dairy, sheep and beef numbers by 15% by 2030.

This recommendation amounts to a reduction of: 3,924,000 Sheep, 540,000 Beef cattle and 975,000 Dairy cattle based on the current numbers for 2020.

This level of reductions will reduce the amount of agricultural methane emitted into the atmosphere in New Zealand but the net effect globally is more than likely to result in an increase in the release of methane from stock.

The production from New Zealand Farms is currently mostly exported and this level of reduction in numbers will affect the level of exports which will in fact mean that other countries will produce the extra instead of New Zealand farmers.

New Zealand Farmers are renowned worldwide as the most environmentally efficient agricultural producers able to export food products into Gt Britain & Europe with a lower environmental footprint even after taking into account the food miles for those exports.

So therefore the extra production from other countries will be produced by less environmentally sound methods which will in effect mean that there will be an overall global increase in emissions rather than a decrease (even though New Zealand will see a decrease in its emission levels).

The other perverse outcome from this recommendation is the economic effects of this. Many farmers are presently struggling to remain economic and this level of reduction will actually result in many farmers leaving the industry with an economic effect that may be out of all proportion to the required result.

This recommendation will also jeopardise the security of food supply within New Zealand and also in many of our trading partner nations even though the Paris Accord specifically excluded impacts on food production.

It is also important for the world to understand that the level of impact from agricultural production in New Zealand must be balanced against the total numbers of the world population that is supported and fed by that level of production not just judged against the population of New Zealand.

New Zealand agricultural producers have been judged as being far and away the most environmentally efficient and sustainable food and fibre producers in the world and when this is combined with the amount of production that is exported our farming industries should be seen as beneficial on a global scale.

There’s a load of factual data being produced on how agriculture can lower its carbon footprint and in line with our commitments under the Paris accord if we take a narrow internal view we could use these methods to reduce our carbon footprint considerably.

But if we take a holistic global scale view we see that by continuing to maintain the current methods of agricultural production we are actually providing a world’s best practical option for food and fibre production that is environmentally efficient and sustainable, and an option that in effect reduces the world impact on humankind’s carbon footprint.

Farmers must ensure that they are using the best practicable options for production in farming operations based on reputable science. Farming needs people to hear and understand that there are trade-offs to be made in farming, in the same way that the well-off have to weigh the GHG cost of flying to Queenstown for a skiing holiday.

There is no such thing as a free emission any more than there are free flights, free ski passes and free hospital care for broken limbs. Someone has to pay. When it comes to the environment it’s deciding who that’s the hard part!

Farming needs to be committed to best practicable options for production, high quality research, science and communication to bring clarity to the relationship between agriculture, the environment, and people’s daily lives. 

Since the occurrence of the coronavirus and the lockdowns we are now back to the situation where we are reliant on agricultural exports for the vast majority of our overseas income yet we are still making it harder for the agricultural sector to produce these export commodities through using the agricultural production sectors to meet our agreed reduction targets for GHG emissions under the Paris Agreement, even though this agreement specifically excludes food production from reductions.

Food production was judged as being of such a necessity that the Paris Accord actually exempted food production from the requirements of reductions in carbon footprint based on security of food supplies.

In spite of AgResearch confirming our dairy farms have the smallest carbon footprint per kilogram of milk in the world at 70 percent lower than the global average, with sheep and beef farmers having the smallest environmental footprint of any red meat producer at 50 percent lower, the Climate Commission wants farmers to slaughter a million cows and 4 million sheep to meet Jacinda Ardern’s excessively harsh emission targets.

This is in spite of the UN Paris Accord specifically requiring governments to exempt food producers from restrictions. In fact, if reducing global emissions really was the goal, instead of penalising Kiwi farmers, the regulators would be encouraging them to increase production to gain a greater share of the global market.

New Zealand emissions are approximately 0.17% of the global total in comparison to the main emitters:

China                                                             28%

United States                                                14%

European Union as a whole                     10%

India                                                               7%

Russia                                                           5%

Japan                                                             3%

Korea                                                                         2%

Canada                                                          2%

Indonesia                                                      2%

Iran                                                                 2%

 Andy Loader