Farm leaders are watching whether O’Connor keeps Agriculture as the climate lobby presses for methane action

Farming leaders  are watching  closely  whether  Damien O’Connor keeps the key portfolios of Agriculture and Trade when Prime Minister Chris Hipkins  restructures his Cabinet.

O’Connor  has been one of the  few ministers during Labour’s term in office who has  won broad support for what he has done as minister, but  he  is now in his 65th year   and  the  heavy  load  he  has  carried  as minister  would have exhausted  any  but  the  fittest.

Hipkins  could be  under  pressure  from climate change lobby groups to put  a  new minister into  the Agriculture  role  to enforce tougher policies on reducing methane emissions from livestock  which make up nearly 40% of NZ’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

Only this week  lobby group Greenpeace said polling showed 61% of New Zealanders  favoured regulating the dairy industry to reduce  water contamination and greenhouse gas emissions.  Greenpeace spokesman Steve Abel said this is a significant increase from 48% in a similar poll only a year ago, in December 2021.

It also shows that a majority (55%) support phasing out synthetic nitrogen fertiliser.

“The poll shows there is widespread and growing support for regulating the dairy industry to achieve cleaner waters, reduce climate emissions, and to phase out synthetic nitrogen fertiliser,” says Abel.

The poll also shows increasing support for the Government to introduce laws to lower the number of dairy cows. In December 2021, 51% opposed passing laws to lower the number of dairy cows in the country. This has dropped to 44%, and in November 2022, 33% support the idea (significantly up from 25% a year ago).

This polling echoes findings in a TVNZ poll undertaken in May 2022, when 34% voted yes to reducing cows.

“It is increasingly obvious to people that the sheer number of dairy cows is a major factor in climate and river pollution and drinking water contamination,”  says Abel.

“We have too many cows crammed onto the land. The enormous volumes of urine and dung they collectively excrete, and the superheating methane gas they belch is killing our rivers and our climate and turning rural groundwater undrinkable with nitrate contamination.

“Both our latest poll and the TVNZ poll in May show that over a third of New Zealanders now want to see fewer cows.

“Globally and in New Zealand, we need to move our farming to more plant-based regenerative and organic production if we are to avert the worst climate chaos.” 

The findings come fast on the heels of Fonterra securing the top spot for the second year running as New Zealand’s biggest climate polluter.

Greenpeace wants to see Fonterra required to take action at least along the lines of French dairy giant Danone, which has committed to a 30% cut in methane emissions by 2030 based on the global methane pledge to which New Zealand is also a signatory.

“These polls show that the Government has a mandate to lead on protecting our climate, rivers and drinking water from the worst excesses of the dairy industry. They urgently need to get on with doing it,” says Abel. 

Meanwhile  the NZ Herald carries a feature which says  the global warming effect of methane is one reason it will not be possible to keep the global temperatures at safe levels without transforming the way the world produces food  and manages land. 

The feature advocates a significant shift to plant-based farming and concludes that climate change is an existential  threat:

“It’s time the livestock farming sector played its part in addressing it”.

This kind of advocacy  in effect is contending that dairy farmers  must accept lower incomes on behalf of the nation as a  whole – yet  even if  NZ  reduced its methane emissions to zero overnight the effect would hardly  register on the dial of  global warming.

4 thoughts on “Farm leaders are watching whether O’Connor keeps Agriculture as the climate lobby presses for methane action

  1. The question that should be asked voters is “Are you prepared to take a drop in your standard of living from lower export earning, or pay more for dairy products so that the government can enforce tighter restrictions on dairy farmers? ” We know that question won’t be asked because the answer will be a resounding “No”. People only agree to things if it doesn’t adversely affect them. It is alright inflicting rules on other people but not me.


  2. One of the many thing about this narrative that annoys me is the term “synthetic nitrogen”

    None of the nitrogen used in fertilizer in NZ is synthetic.

    All of the nitrogen atoms were created billions of years ago when an ancient star went supernova.

    The agricultural industry is allowing the activists to frame the narrative. When the average person hears the word “synthetic” they automatically think “bad”.

    In reality, the main nitrogenous fertilizers used in NZ are diammonium phosphate (DAP) and Urea.

    Both of these deliver nitrogen to the plants in a form that is ideal for absorption.
    They also allow the application rates that will minimise runoff to the rivers.

    There is nothing environmentally harmful about the use of these when applied correctly.

    Liked by 1 person

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