Comment: Last month Rangitikei farmer Andrew Stewart wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern about his concerns over climate change and farming. In his follow up letter, he calculates his farm's emissions profile and finds some worrying statistics.

Nearly a month ago I wrote an emotive open letter to Jacinda Ardern and the farming leaders of New Zealand.

My motivation was to try and articulate what I was feeling as a sheep and beef farmer in regards to climate change obligations.

Now I want to share the facts about my own farm and my emissions profile that inspired me to write the open letter.


Farmer's open letter to Jacinda Ardern

Our Rangitikei farm is 617 hectares of mainly hill country that has been in my family since 1901.

Over the years, extensive planting of poplars and willows have been carried out to reduce the impacts of soil erosion and also to provide shade. These are mature trees that provide a large canopy and total an area of 43 hectares.

This does not include the 800 poplar trees that have also been planted over the past seven years as they do not form a canopy yet, or the hundreds of other willows and poplars planted in isolation around the farm.

Areas of native bush, totalling 32 hectares, have been left in their original state and allowed to re generate. We have invested in 5km of fencing in the past five years to protect these areas and stock are now totally excluded.

On steeper parts of the farm, scrub and natives are allowed to grow on bluffs and along creeks to encourage bio diversity, improve water quality and protect stock. These areas equate to another 12 hectares.

Trees on Andrew Stewart's farm. Photo / Facebook
Trees on Andrew Stewart's farm. Photo / Facebook

And then there are the pine trees.

In my 16 years as a farm owner, I have been subjected to two "1 in 100 year" storms resulting in extensive damage as bad as my 77-year-old father can remember.


As a result of these storms we have also planted 30 hectares of production pine trees on the three worst eroding faces of the farm to reduce the impact of soil erosion.

In terms of facts about trees on our farm, of a total area of 617 hectares there is 116 hectares covered with some type of tree. That represents just under 20 per cent of our total farm area, and if you factored in the smaller trees and ones planted in isolation, the number would be much higher.

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Our stocking rate is not high and during spring we average about seven ewes or just over one cow per hectare.

With co-operation from our neighbours we have moved fence lines from at risk places up on to ridges to try and minimise future storm damage.

We have installed a solar pump to distribute stock water to nearly two-thirds of our farm using only the power of the sun. We use Fine Particle Applications of fertiliser which in my experience is the most efficient way to grow dry matter on our farm.

Any cropping is done with no tillage methods to minimise any impact on the soil. We do not use any form of winter cropping for my stock or feed out any supplements to our stock. They survive, and thrive, on the grass and legumes that we grow in an environment that I can only describe as clean and green.

I know there are others in our farming sector who have done much more than us on their farms, and some that have done less. But when it came time to calculate my emissions profile, I knew that if the obligations were bad for me the outlook for many others would be dire as well, and catastrophic for our industry.

So how do you calculate your emissions?

Lincoln University has an online calculator that is described as "a simplified approximation of the greenhouse gas emissions from a farm."

Despite this less than inspiring introduction, this calculator is one of only two that I could find in New Zealand and is widely referred to by industry organisations as a go to.

It has simple to use screens, but asks for very crude data inputs for stock, production, fuel, contractors, fertiliser and feed purchased.

Rangitikei farmer Andrew Stewart. Photo / Facebook
Rangitikei farmer Andrew Stewart. Photo / Facebook

There is no mention of any type of tree, grass, soil or any other means to offset carbon.

So, I diligently went through the process and ended up with a results screen that told me my "total kg CO2 equivalent" emissions are 1,372,100kg.

It also helpfully explained that this was the same as 5,939,825 km driven in a medium sized car, 351.8 flights from Auckland to London in economy class, 49 hectares of growing Pinus radiata or 214 hectares of permanently planted indigenous forest.

Needless to say, based on this data I was left with a pretty bad taste in my mouth.

Despite 118 years of care, love and attention for the environment that we live in, my family are labelled as nothing more than filthy polluters responsible for climate change.

So, these are the facts behind my appeal to our Prime Minister and the farming leaders of New Zealand.

Although I had a sense that I was speaking for others, I had no idea the depth of feeling and widespread support within our farming community and also from many in our towns and cities.

Based on Facebook's own information stating that the average person has about 300 "friends", this single post has potentially reached 300,000 people.

More importantly it was picked up by the mainstream media and re distributed which has kicked off a new level of awareness and discussion.

The Country, The New Zealand Herald, Stuff and Mike Hosking have all jumped in to share my message but the one person I was hoping might make contact has only managed an email reply via her office staff.

All I asked her was to come and have a look at our beautiful farm for herself so I could help her understand how she has got this all so wrong.

I am still waiting Jacinda ...