By KEVIN TAYLOR



National MP Shane Ardern chose a different way of going up Parliament's front steps yesterday - at the wheel of an elderly tractor called Myrtle.



But the stunt earned him a telling off from the Speaker, Jonathan Hunt.



Mr Ardern, a Taranaki farm-owner, grabbed the wheel of the tractor during yesterday's farmer protest against the proposed flatulence tax and gunned it up Parliament's steps, to the cheers of a crowd of several hundred protesters.

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Parliament's manager of security and operations, Andrew Standish, tried to stop the MP.



Eventually Mr Ardern backed down the steps.



He refused to comment afterwards, but Mr Hunt said he would read a written apology he had received from Mr Ardern to Parliament next Tuesday.



"I have deliberately not been in touch with the police, and it's their call whether they take the matter any further," he said.



During the protest, another National MP, Lockwood Smith, led two cows onto Parliament's steps. One left its mark on the stairs, to the amusement of the crowd.



National leader Bill English, New Zealand First leader Winston Peters, Act rural affairs spokesman Gerry Eckhoff and United Future leader Peter Dunne all voiced their opposition to the tax at the rally.



The protest started downtown and involved about 20 tractors and utility vehicles. When it reached Parliament, organisers presented a 64,000-signature petition opposing the tax.



Farmers chanted slogans and sang a ditty with the refrain: "We won't pay the fart tax" to the tune of nursery rhyme Frere Jacques.



They waved placards such as "GE farts do no harm", "Thieving tax-hungry socialist government", and "Methane Pete".



The convener of the ministerial group on climate change, Pete Hodgson, Associate Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor and Green MP Ian Ewen-Street were drowned out when they tried to speak.



The Government wants to raise about $8 million a year from farmers to help to pay for research into reducing agricultural greenhouse gas emissions, in line with the provisions of the Kyoto Protocol.



It is proposing a levy on livestock, which would cost farmers an average of about $300 a year each.



But it may back down on the levy - although it still wants to collect the research money from farmers through voluntary means.



Mr Hodgson told Parliament that negotiations with the Primary Industries Council over voluntary funding had started in the last few days.



"Those negotiations have barely begun. I hope they work - it's far too early to know."



Mr Hodgson told the Herald that the Government would not back down on collecting money from agriculture for research.



Farmers had to face up to climate change and help to find solutions to the sector's greenhouse gas emissions, he said.



The Government was exempting agriculture from emissions charges under the Kyoto Protocol, and if a full flatulence tax was being imposed it would cost the industry almost $1 billion a year.



"Farmers have a great deal to lose from climate change and they are being asked for a fair and reasonable financial contribution."