Kim Fulton is a NZME. News Service regional reporter

Climate change poses issues for North

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Federated Farmers Kaipara chairman and Northland president John Blackwell.
Federated Farmers Kaipara chairman and Northland president John Blackwell.

Climate change is presenting challenges as well as opportunities for those in Northland's primary sectors.

New Zealand's climate is trending long-term towards higher temperatures, more hot extremes, fewer cold extremes, and shifting rainfall patterns in some regions, according to the New Zealand Climate Change Centre.

National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (Niwa) data shows New Zealand's average annual temperature has already increased by about 0.9C over the past 100 years. Northland has a higher share of employment in the primary sector relative to the rest of New Zealand, particularly in forestry and logging, fishing and aquaculture, dairy farming, and sheep farming.

Last year 2666 were employed in dairy cattle farming, according to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's (MBIE's) Regional Economic Activity Report 2015. The report showed 1752 were employed in grain, sheep and beef cattle farming.

Federated Farmers Kaipara chairman and Northland president John Blackwell said farmers were experiencing warmer winters in the North, which was beneficial for winter beef production. Beef farmers were paid a premium through the winter, so the weather had advantaged them in that respect.

However, there had been more droughts than usual over the past decade. "I would say we are not summer safe, but we are winter kind."

Mr Blackwell said climate change was a global problem that every farmer was concerned about.

"We probably are adapting to it at this point but we don't know what the future will throw at us."

His farm's adaptations included keeping less breeding stock and more trading stock. It de-stocked through late spring and early summer and increased stock in autumn and throughout winter and spring. It was also making silage and growing chicory, a drought resistant crop.

University of Waikato professor of agribusiness, Jacqueline Rowarth, said farmers were "absolutely" aware of climate change and were trying to adapt to it.

"Farmers get a bad press. Farmers are doing everything they can to set up their businesses in a resilient fashion and cope with what is going on."

The unpredictably of the weather was a challenge for farmers and they were preparing for weather events which may not happen, she said.

"I think the worst thing is drought, and the unpredictability of where the water is going to be has been impacting us for some time."

She said a proper water debate needed to take place in New Zealand, which wasn't happening. "We haven't reached the state of maturity that the debates can happen without the emotion that's rife. If you haven't got water then you can't grow grass so what are we going to do?"

Dairy farmers had installed shelters to keep animals cool and provided efficient ways of feeding animals when there was no grass, said Dr Rowarth. Farmers were also converting to dairy because it was easier to manage the environment for dairy than for beef and sheep.

"I think farmers have done a heap and the industry bodies are trying to help with the consideration of options but we do have animal welfare and of course human welfare, environmental welfare, all of those things to consider at once."

According to MBIE, 615 Northland people were employed in forestry and logging last year. Scion Research principal scientist Dr Tim Payn said more storms leading to increased risk of erosion was front of mind for those in the forestry sector.

- Northern Advocate

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