Taking stock: Govt should pump more into science to lift farm production as animal numbers are reduced

Here’s  a  conundrum for  New  Zealand: pastoral farming last year produced more  than 40% of  the country’s export income, but  the Climate Change Commission is calling   for  a  15%  fall in the  national headcount of    sheep and  dairy and beef cattle by 2030  and  another 5% by 2035.

Even if the  productivity  of  the animals  can  be  improved, the  commission appears to be  saying that  NZ  will have to adjust  to a  flattening out  of  its export income  from farming, and  therefore to a  slower  rate of  what already is a slow rise in living standards.

So  what is  going to fill  the gap  when the  headcount of dairy  cows  falls?

Or  (a better question, surely) is  there  a  better  way of  meeting  NZ’s  emission reduction  targets  than the  methods  the  commission  recommends?

It’s   a  fact  that  methane  emissions  comprise  49%  of  NZ’s  total  emissions  but methane, although a potent greenhouse  gas, has  a  relatively short-lived impact.

Dairy farmers  who argue that  their work, besides providing  them with their livelihoods, benefits the national economy  through  foreign  exchange earnings, will find  this doesn’t wash  with  the  wider community .

As  Brian  Fallow in the  NZ  Herald put it,  NZ is  internationally accountable for its emissions and  if  those who profit from  them  continue  to escape  any  cost and therefore  receive no price signal to reduce  them, then  that  is a subsidy from the rest of us. The subsidy’s days  are numbered.

He Waka Eke Noa,  a  collaborative process between farmer bodies  and  the  government, is developing  a  farm-level emissions pricing mechanism  to come into  effect in 2025. The Climate Change Commission is charged with reporting next  year whether sufficient progress is being made to meet target dates.

So, in  conjunction with  the new emissions pricing mechanism, should  the  same  outfits  be pursuing  more  vigorously  at the  same time  the science to  intensify  the  productivity  per animal  and along  with it  the  trend decline   in emissions intensity  (methane emitted  per  kilogram  of  milk solids).

Surely  it  is  time  for  the government to  accelerate  scientific  programmes, including genetic  work  to produce animals  and  grasses   aimed  at cutting methane emissions.

The problem is  that there appears   to be  little  action  or   even interest at  the  highest levels  of  government to get  to  grips  with  the basic issues.

Despite  the Prime Minister  declaring not long  after  she  took  office  that  climate   change  would  be  her  government’s  “nuclear-free moment”  she has  done  little since  to promote that  “moment”.

Perhaps even  more  disappointing, it doesn’t  seem  to  have  attracted  more  than cursory  attention  from   Finance  Minister   Grant Robertson.

As  for  Agriculture  Minister Damien O’Connor, he seems too busy with  the trade side of his ministerial responsibilities and advising Australia  to be  more “respectful” in its dealings  with  China.

Perhaps the Productivity Commission and its new  chairman,  Ganesh Nana,  are  on  the case?

No  such  luck.

So  should   New  Zealanders  be  resigned to  accepting  that  dairy production volumes   can  go no  higher and   export  receipts  will  flatten out?

That’s like  confronting the  country  with the unpalatable   reality  that this is as good as  it gets  so  far as living standards are  concerned.

3 thoughts on “Taking stock: Govt should pump more into science to lift farm production as animal numbers are reduced

  1. Where is the evidence (as distinct from computer models that are nothing more than long term guesses) that “emissions” cause problems that occur naturally as they have done for millennia and to which the world has been able to adapt? Before we destroy our economy shouldn’t we make sure that there really is a problem?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. 25% of animal GHG emissions come from nitrous oxide which is far more serious than methane due to its much longer lifetime, yet consistently the reports such as this focus on methane. Getting this message right is important as technology exists that can both reduce nitrous oxide emission and improve grass growth – adding to farm profitability and reducing the amount of extra feed required. Of course more research will improve benefits but 30% reductions are already being achieved.

    Additionally, there is no logic in producing less animal products in NZ where we have the lowest GHG per kg. It doesn’t impact global production but more is produced elsewhere to compensate – reducing production in NZ actually increases global GHG emissions so we mess up our economy so that we can ‘feel good’ and produce less NZ sourced GHGs but the result is the world produces more GHGs, go figure???

    Like

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