AS THE New Zealand Government pushes ahead on its plans to tax methane and nitrous oxide emissions from livestock, producers are still trying to work out what it might mean for their operations.
Former NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern outlined the planned “burp tax” last year, which she said will come into effect in 2025. The bill is expected to be a major topic of the next NZ election in October, with the government pushing ahead and the opposition vowing to work with farmers on emissions.
Multiple producers from across the Tasman attended last week’s Angus Australia conference in Tamworth to gain some insights into the Australian industry. While the “burp tax” was not a part of the program, three NZ producers took time to chat with Beef Central about the road ahead.
Mark Stokman runs a family Angus stud on the North Island, between Taupō and Rotorua. He said he had some ideas about how the business was going to navigate the legislation.
“From my basic understanding, the first thing we will need to do is cut our stocking rate down – which is unproductive for such an agriculture-reliant economy,” Mr Stokman said.
“I have had some idea of planting trees on some of our steeper hill country to offset our emissions. But I don’t want to do that because I believe we can still graze cattle and produce food from that country. As a human race we don’t eat trees and I think our red meat will continue to be an important food source.”
Potential in soil carbon
The conference heard from Precision Pasture interim chief executive officer Hamish Webb – who was talking about soil carbon credits.
New Zealand has been doing some research into sequestering carbon in soils, but does not have a crediting system like Australia’s. Mr Stockman said he was envious of the opportunity Australians have with soil carbon.
“I have come away from here thinking that we need to lobby for NZ to have a system like this,” he said.
“This a benefit that Australian farmers have above NZ. We are both beef exporting nations and I think we should be on a level playing field. I don’t think there is enough evidence that the market is going to pay a premium for low carbon beef to justifies us lowering our stocking rate.”
Still a future in livestock
Mr Stokman’s son Jake is working in the family business full-time, and he said he hoped the Government would see livestock as a solution to reducing emissions in the future.
“I think we still have to do something about the emissions, but it would be good for the government to recognise how much carbon we are already sequestering on farm,” he said.
“We have plantation trees for cover, grasses, soil and hedges all sequestering carbon and none of that can be included in our emissions account.”
While he was not a fan of the current direction the government was taking, he said he still believed there was a future in producing livestock.
“As a young person in the industry, it is pretty scary seeing good farms being taken up by pine plantations because the carbon developers have the money to throw at the land,” he said.
“Some people might want to get out of livestock, but hopefully with some more research and lobbying we can get a better deal on this.”
Concerns about pine plantations
The carbon industry has moved into NZ in a big way, with large pine tree plantations across the country. The agriculture industry has raised concerns about the pine plantations, saying they are extremely risky with flood and fire and take valuable land out of agricultural production.
Beef + Lamb NZ said the country was an outlier in the world by allowing the plantations to happen on such a large scale and by giving companies no boundaries with carbon credits.
All three producers Beef Central interviewed said they felt farmland was being used as a scapegoat in regards to global emissions and the plantations were allowing big emitters to keep emitting.
Forbes Cameron runs 6000 breeding ewes and 600 cows on Ngāputahi Station, near Palmerston on the lower North Island. He said the plantations had been a disaster for the country.
“There is an area where I used to live, that is now 80 to 90 percent plantation,” Mr Cameron said.
“A lot of is in slightly sloped areas, which are very windy and don’t have much access for firefighters. So, if it does catch fire, then it will be nearly impossible to put it out – which I think is serious stuff.
“You also have a village there, which had 150 people, that is now a backwater – not to mention the rest of the area. It is hurting schools, shops and other businesses in these areas too.”
Wanting a change of government
Mr Cameron said with not much mining or other large emitting industries in NZ, agriculture was being punished.
“I hope there is a change of government and a change of the way they are handling this, because NZ is a drop in the ocean of world emissions,” he said.
“I don’t know why we are spending so much time and effort on this and penalising farmers.”
Mr Carmeron said while he had started taking measurements of emissions, he was not too focused on the legislation at this point.
“We sell a lot of rams and we have been putting about 300 per year through a trailer that measures their emissions,” he said.
“It is coming up smartly and a lot of people have been doing work on it. For us, it has gone on the backburner a bit because we are busy doing other things like breeding sheep and cattle.
Beef + Lamb NZ campaigning for measurement change
On the emissions front, the peak body for the NZ livestock industry has been campaigning for the government to change the way it presents livestock emissions to the work. Beef + Lamb New Zealand chief executive officer Sam McIvor said in a press release the government needed to take leadership on measurement and focus more on warming impact.
“We know that the GWP100 metric overstates the warming impact of methane when emissions are stable or falling, and therefore is unfit for the purpose of comparing long-lived and short-lived emissions,” Mr McIvor said.
“New Zealand pastoral agricultural systems already provide a model for others to follow as our red meat has a greenhouse gas footprint that is among the lowest in the world, enhances biodiversity and has some of the highest animal welfare in the world.
“Because of this, we support the New Zealand Government taking a leadership position on agricultural climate change and suggest that a good place would be start would be an international coalition that recognises the short-lived nature of biogenic methane and manages it appropriately.”
So the 400 private and government jets that flew into COP26 in Scotland can keep flying into their private islands and mansions all round the world? The muddy sandstone hills have let all these trees go down twice in the last few years, with big rain events, destroying bridges road infrastructure and blocking rivers and estuaries. So the jets keep emitting and Albanese being one of the most travelled – three hours to Alice Springs for three days of tennis.