Year in Review: One of New Zealand's leading sheep breeders, Derek Daniell struck a chord with this opinion piece on how politicians and lobby groups treat farmers.
New Zealand's environmental profile has been shafted by the one-sided, false accounting analysis of the Kyoto Accord.
Why was New Zealand the only country to have agriculture emissions specifically included in Kyoto? Because the blame could be shifted to methane emissions from ruminants, even though the methane percentage in the atmosphere has been constant over the past 25 years. And ruminants have been around for 90 million years. Their methane emissions had a balance in the earth's atmosphere long before the world became overstocked with humans, who are using up billions of years of stored energy as oil, coal and gas in a short binge.
No credit is given for the buildup of top soil and organic matter under our pastoral farming system, under the "single entry" accounting approach. This is a much more virtuous farming system than monoculture cropping, using herbicides and pesticides to kill competing plants and animals, and continually depleting the organic matter in the soil. How long is monoculture cropping around the world going to be sustainable?
Tourism is touted as a great industry for New Zealand, with recent growth to 3.7 million visitors. But no one talks about the 2.9 million Kiwis travelling OUT of the country, and spending more than $10 billion in the process. This is another example of "single entry accounting". And no one talks about the continual increase in GHG caused by this two way travel.
The energy industry is another sector under attack from the current government, and environmental lobby groups. The local oil, gas and coal industry supplies the equivalent of 78 percent of domestic requirements, but reducing. We will become more and more dependent on an oil tanker sailing into the Whangarei refinery every six days. This is another example of "single entry" accounting. If the government restricts this sector, it will simply reduce the living standards of New Zealanders, because we will import more energy. And be less self sufficient.
Listen: Jamie Mackay's interview with Derek Daniell - Part One:
Contrast our naive approach with Norway. Norway is one of the richest per capita countries in the world, on the back of oil. The oil harvest from Norway's territorial waters has been so good that the government has grown a sovereign wealth fund to equal five times New Zealand's GDP. Yet contributes a small percentage of the bounty to environmental funds, to appease their international conscience. Norway has its cake and eats it too.
Since the election in September 2017, irrigation has been regarded as a non-starter for government support. Yet around 40 percent of the world's food is produced under irrigation, which typically allows a doubling of crop yields.
And very few of the general public realise that the world's farmers would feed only 3 billion people without nitrogen fertiliser. The other 4.7 billion people would starve to death. The petrochemical industry not only fuels the world, but provides the ingredients for much of the world's fertiliser, supplies sixty five percent of the fibre used for clothing and other uses, and supplies the base material for plastics. Our lifestyle is wedded to the oil industry, like it or not.
New Zealand agriculture has been treated as a convenient scapegoat by our politicians and lobby groups. But recent stories of sewage washing up on Auckland beaches are starting to expose the situation that 80 PER CENT of our towns and cities are non-compliant with sewage and stormwater regulations. The estimated cost to rectify this issue? $7 billion.
Contrast our steadily growing human population with the HUGE changes which have happened to New Zealand farming over the past thirty years:
From a peak of grazing 60 per cent of New Zealand, ruminant animals now roam only 40 per cent of the country. Land use has changed to conservation, plantation trees, reversion to native shrubs and trees, horticulture/viticulture, (two percent of land area), urban and lifestyle block sprawl.
The number of grazing animals has reduced dramatically over recent years, sheep down 43 million from the peak, deer down 1 million, beef cattle down 1.5 million, with dairy cattle the only category to increase, up 3 million.
But the output per cow and sheep has close to doubled. The dairy industry, (using 7 percent of land area), should be given credit for being the main engine room in the NZ economy from 1995 to 2015. The conversions from sheep and beef created a boost to GDP, and enhanced the value of exports. The "sunset agriculture industry", combined with other natural resource sectors, provides 80 percent of New Zealand's merchandise export receipts. And pastoral farming is still about half of that total.
New Zealanders need to realise how their bread is buttered. Their recent improvement in standard of living owes little to wealth generation in the cities. In fact, our natural resource industries are having to support a steadily increasing population of dependents. Population increase messes with our treaty obligations re GHG emissions. Why don't our politicians have a population policy?
The big movers in our economy right now are wine, kiwifruit and apples, plus smaller exports such as goat milk product, avocados and Manuka honey. New Zealanders turn a blind eye to the ugly structures required by these industries, perhaps because they realise how productive and profitable these industries are, and perhaps because they like drinking wine. There will continue to be land use change towards more profitable enterprises.
Before Europeans settled in New Zealand, it is estimated that the Maori population peaked at around 250,000. The country now supports 4.75 million people, thanks to modern agriculture. Humans change the natural environment to suit their technology. We have to accept that New Zealand is never going to return to a pre-human state while we inhabit the land. There have to be compromises around water quality and other aspects of the natural environment.
Listen: Jamie Mackay's interview with Derek Daniell - Part Two:
ARE WE AT THE PARTY OR ARE WE ON THE MENU?
Farmers are in the spotlight "for trashing the environment", with phrases like "dirty dairying" bandied about. There is little front page publicity about the average dairy farmer spending $100,000 on protecting the environment, over $100 million in total. Imagine the uproar if Auckland was fined $100 million for failing to act quickly enough on sewage and storm water improvements to meet regulations?
Over 3000 QE2 covenants have been set aside by private landowners, most of them farmers, since 1977. QE2 covenants now total over 180,000 hectares, and there are another 500 covenants in the pipeline. This conservation is entirely voluntary.
The Ballance Farm Environment awards have had huge success in fostering a competitive spirit among farmers to create best environmental practice on their farms. And all without heavy-handed regulation.
Cities are people feedlots. Cities have the same advantages as the often criticised animal feedlots for concentrated supply lines of food and water, and also for effluent disposal. But the concentration of effluent and rubbish requires expensive solutions. You can swim safely in the Waikato river upstream of Hamilton, but not downstream. The streams around Wellington are largely devoid of aquatic life, with no farmers to blame.
Fish and Game plays holier than thou, yet is responsible for ruining the ecological balance in our rivers and streams with introduced fish species. The organisation is also responsible for introducing Canadian geese, now declared a noxious pest, and the Mallard duck, which has made the native Grey Duck almost extinct. Fish and Game is still protected by an Act of Parliament. Why?
Why don't environmental lobby groups focus on Fish and Game or urban targets? They get their funding largely from urban dwellers, and Fish and Game adds to a united attack on relatively defenceless targets like farmers.
NATURE VERSUS PEOPLE
In Africa in 1800, the elephant population was estimated at 26 million, and the human population of the continent at 120 million. Roll forward to today, and the elephant population is estimated to have fallen to 400,000, and the human population has multiplied to 1.2 billion. The human population is projected to swell to somewhere between 3 and 4 billion by the end of this century.
Conservationists may be happy about the reduced number of elephants, because rivers in Africa are not fenced, and elephants love to wade into streams and rivers, stirring up mud and disturbing the ecology. However, the real elephant in the room is the huge increase projected in the human population, and the pressure that four billion people are going to exert on the natural environment.
The new government is subsidising the planting of trees. How sustainable will Pinus radiata be with three or four loggings every hundred years? And the idea of planting trees as a "permanent sink" is just a temporary offset, just an excuse for poor behaviour. Because the trees will stop growing after thirty years, and stop sequestering extra carbon. Contrast that with pasture, which is constantly renewing itself. Pasture is the solution, right under our noses!
Sustainability is the big buzz word, but are we talking 100 years, 1000, 10,000, a million? Where is the sweet spot between economic productivity and sustainability?
Should governments interfere with economics? In the late 1970s the government of the day introduced the Land Development Encouragement Loan (LDEL) scheme, which subsidised the development of marginal land into pasture. That was accompanied by the Stock Incentive Scheme, (the "skinny sheep scheme"), a cash payment to farmers for carrying more stock across balance date in mid winter. These two subsidy schemes had the effect of creating an oversupply of lamb and mutton on world markets, causing a long term price trough. An economic recession eventuated, and many farmers faced extremely high interest rates and went out of business. It is highly risky for governments to interfere with market economics.
Facetiously, it could be argued that the LDEL was a far-sighted government scheme to create the Manuka honey industry, as that marginal land reverted to "scrub". This year's bright idea to subsidise the planting of another half million hectares in trees has a big risk. Our forbears sweated mightily to clear forest from this land. Once it is back in trees, recovering that land for other enterprises is an expensive proposition.
There are other ideas in the pipeline. An example is the newly formed company Knewe, which takes a low value byproduct of bioethanol and adds a magnesium compound to create a feed for cattle. The lead scientist and chairman of the company, Graeme Coles, describes this feed additive as "improving the efficiency of the rumen from 50 to 60 per cent". This not only increases milksolids production by up to 23 per cent, but reduces methane emissions by up to 50 per cent. Commercial farmers in Canterbury will put Knewe to the test next milking season.
The rich world is having a great party! No one wants to go home early from a good party. The "magic carpet rides" of yesteryear's fairy tales are today's reality. The volume of air traffic is increasing every year. New Zealand is one of the top six countries in the world for car ownership per person. We love our mobility. We sail on gaily, assuming that some new and cheap energy source will allow us to party on after oil and gas supply becomes depleted and expensive.
The Kyoto Accord's attempt to try to stabilise the global climate has little chance of success. It has become a talk fest, rather than provoking the world to radically change its way of doing business. Radical change will only happen with new and cheap ways to harness energy, and with a falling rather than rising population.
When the last Ice Age ended, just 14,000 years ago, the average temperature in New Zealand was 7 degrees, now 12. Given a choice, would Kiwis opt for global cooling ahead of global warming?
New Zealand politicians are in a bind. Our electricity comes 85 per cent from renewables, so there is little wriggle room there. Ruminant animal numbers have declined, for economic reasons, not because of regulation. The elephant in the room is the steady increase in human population, up 40 per cent in New Zealand since 1990. To put that in perspective, if China had had the same percentage increase, that would be 560 million more people!
Every extra person weighs on New Zealand's ability to meet the terms of Kyoto by 2030. The rules were made by politicians in countries where the populations are virtually static, where manufacturing emissions were a big part of the overall picture, and where agriculture was not included in the analysis. How is New Zealand going to reduce emissions thirty per cent from 1990 levels, when our population might be 60 PER CENT HIGHER by 2030??
- Shrink the economy so that people leave, and never return. Could we drive the population down to 1990 level at 3.4 million?
- Regulate overseas travel, permitted only for urgent business or political reasons.
- Regulate the size of new houses. The average New Zealand house in the 1950s was 85 square metres, with five people living in it. The average house today has 2.8 inhabitants, each with four times the living space of sixty years ago. This is obviously a gross waste of resources, and creates too much employment and false GDP.
But the biggest saving will be when there is no need for new houses, because of the rapidly declining population.
- Make it harder and harder for businesses to grow. An example is new roading, which should require at least ten years of engineers' reports before RMA approval. No one has analysed the current 94,000km of roading infrastructure to identify the unmitigated environmental disasters caused in the past. We should know the statistics.
- Send delegations of politicians and bureaucrats to Japan, to study how an economy works with a declining population and a bias against immigration.
- Change from democracy to a dictatorship to ensure that the reducing population is conditioned to accept the need for these changes.
- Instead of compulsory military training for all school leavers, both male and female, there should be two years of compulsory agricultural training. No tractors, no emissions, only hand hoes allowed. It didn't do Xi Jinping any harm.
Relitigate New Zealand's commitments under Kyoto. Sometimes in international agreements there is room for common sense.