Comment: When it comes to reducing our carbon footprint, why are we going to go about it in a potentially vastly more costly manner than our competitors, asks Federated Farmers climate change spokesman Andrew Hoggard.

It's rather frustrating to see that the Zero Carbon Bill has passed with its flawed methane targets intact.

On November 1 Feds, along with DairyNZ, Beef & Lamb and DeerNZ, wrote to all the Government party leaders with a few key points that, if used to amend the bill, we felt would make it a lot more workable and likely to drive the right outcomes. We sent the same request to National on November 4.

We offered two ways forward.

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The first option was to establish a process for the Climate Change Commission to recommend the level of methane emissions reductions necessary to achieve a level equivalent to zero carbon emissions. After receiving advice from the Commission, the Climate Change Minister would then make an informed decision.

The second option was to alter the methane reduction target range to start at 10 per cent - which is where many of the climate change experts believe it needs to be to ensure no additional warming under current atmospheric conditions (i.e. carbon zero equivalent), and then get the Climate Change Commission to review the methane targets as an early task.

Hopefully it would propose a number that is suitable for the New Zealand scenario.

The National Party did take that letter on board and put forward changes to the bill in line with that in the form of an SOP (Supplementary Order Paper) on Wednesday November 6.

As we now know, the coalition Government refused the amendments and National voted in favour of the bill but gave notice that if it gained power next year, it would change the legislation so that, among other things, the Climate Change Commission would recommend the biological methane emissions target; greenhouse gas reductions would be done in a manner that do not threaten food production; that the Commission be required to consider economic impacts when providing advice on targets and emission reductions; and that the level of action taken by other countries is also taken into account.

These are all sensible factors that could have alleviated the concerns expressed by the agricultural sector.

It's hard to fathom why New Zealand First didn't see fit to support National on these amendments – the outcomes are more important than the politics.

Federated Farmers climate change spokesman, Andrew Hoggard. Photo / Supplied
Federated Farmers climate change spokesman, Andrew Hoggard. Photo / Supplied

We will continue to push hard to get changes to this target, and as mentioned before it may be that the work happening internationally is likely to play a part in forcing those changes.

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I must say I do get incensed when I see comments that we have to have this legislation to protect our markets and our export trade.

The reality is that with our key farming products we are the world leader in terms of carbon footprint (and if the methane was calculated more correctly, on its additional warming impact, then we would be even further in front).

So, if there are premiums to be had, why are we not getting them now, is it a case of our marketers needing to improve not our farmers?

In terms of trade barriers, well my understanding of WTO rules is that any country trying to put on some climate change tariff or anything similar, could only do so if the footprint was worse than the domestic products.

So yes there could be a risk, but it doesn't exist right now, and in the future it would only exist if we didn't maintain the rate of improvement we have shown to date.

I don't disagree that carbon footprint is important to customers, and it's something that we must stay ahead on because our competitors, especially in dairy, are trying to get their footprint down to where ours is.

The big challenge is that we are going to go about this in a potentially vastly more costly manner than our competitors because we have regulation sitting over the top of what we are going to be doing.

When you have that regulation, there ends up being a much higher audit standard. So we will have additional people with clipboards ticking boxes – certainly more than our competitors will face.

At the end of the day a customer overseas is going to care about one thing - carbon footprint of the product, not the legislation of the country it comes from.

In the supermarket aisle he or she will look to the back of the packet to see what the footprint is, not download and read each country's climate change legislation and see who has the better legislation.

With all that in mind a key item for the industry commitment is going to be developing greenhouse gas mitigation plans for farms in a smart way.

At the core of any of these will undoubtedly be a modelling programme - likely to be Overseer.

We need to ensure that data farmers are already capturing is utilised efficiently, and smart systems are put in place that automatically push that data across, rather than have to be entered another time.

Similarly the data generated by third parties is also just entered automatically.

Doing things this way will reduce the need for auditing and minimise the cost. Farmers will be the ones paying for these plans, whether they are done by a levy body, whose funding comes from farmers, or a Co-op (again farmers' money). Even if a private processor is forced to pay, they'll just pay less to the farmer for their product.

We're footing the bill, so we need to go about this in the most cost-efficient way possible.

To date I have seen far too much in the way of replication with reporting of environmental data.

Going forward we need a lot more collaboration and pragmatism to ensure that costs of these farm plans don't vastly exceed any supposed benefits.

With a bit of smarts and teamwork we can hopefully keep the costs to a bare minimum and in line with what our competitors will face.

Anyway, speaking of climate change it's good to see the sun come out after a bleak October, and I hope everyone is getting crops in the ground and silage in the stacks … and don't forget to clean the BBQ.