Year in Review: Rangitikei farmer Andrew Stewart's open letter to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, outlining his concerns about how climate change regulations will affect the future of New Zealand agriculture, was one of our most popular stories of 2019.
Dear Jacinda: An open letter to our government and the farming leaders of New Zealand.
For the first time in my farming career, which spans 16 years as an owner, and a lifetime on the same farm, I find myself doubting whether I would consider encouraging my two daughters into the agricultural profession.
This negativity has been created by proposed regulations regarding climate change and how we as farmers will have to cope with it, and ultimately pay for it.
Luckily my children are still young, at 7 and 4, and I can only hope I still have the time to help rectify this situation before it is too late.
I am writing this as a response to the bombardment of information that has spewed forth in the past couple of months regarding climate change obligations in agriculture.
As a sheep and beef farmer, this was supposed to be a year in which we enjoyed record high prices which is long overdue.
Instead I find myself struggling to comprehend why I would consider carrying on in an industry with such massive uncertainty about the future with little control over my own destiny.
I admit I am no climate change expert, but if you can show me someone who professes to be one, I would say they are either delusional or just flat-out lying.
It's my belief that in the area of climate change in agriculture we know so little about the hard facts that it is impossible to make educated decisions, let alone create long reaching legislation.
I have had an active interest in this subject for 15 years and still struggle with the science.
So now we are told that we must make a choice between two options regarding our future farming operations.
Listen to The Country's Rowena Duncum interview Andrew Stewart and the MP for Clutha Southland Hamish Walker below:
The proposed government plan which is the least palatable is a proposed processor levy or tax. The industry collaboration, Primary Sector Climate Change Commitment, is only slightly less repulsive for the average farmer.
Either way we would be signing up for generational obligations and taxes based on guess work and not hard science.
How can anyone claim to know how much methane a farm animal can produce over a year? And conversely, how do you accurately measure sequestration from native bush, pine trees, mānuka and grass, let alone the carbon in the soil?
In this respect, our farming leaders are leading us to the slaughter and that is simply unacceptable.
Well how about option three?
How about taking a breath and taking stock of what is happening in this beautiful country of ours without any overriding fear of legislation.
By Beef + Lamb NZ's own admission, our greenhouse gas profile in agriculture is well on track with our current international obligations.
"While the sheep and beef sector has already exceeded the 11 per cent below 1990 goal with its 19 per cent below 1990 emissions, it will need to maintain emissions reductions if the Government's wider goal of reducing New Zealand's emissions to 50 per cent of 1990 levels by 2050 is to be achieved. Emissions reductions for sheep and beef will need to continue at about the same rate as currently to meet the 2050 target" from the Beef + Lamb NZ website.
So, it seems that without any threat of obligations or legislation we already have proof that we are on the right track.
Not only that, but with the sale of large farms to forestry in recent months we could probably accurately predict some more reductions in the national sheep and beef flock with little difficulty.
Add to that the incredible amount of riparian planting of waterways, space planting of specimen trees and afforestation that is going on and I would strongly argue that our industry is in no need of further contributions to New Zealand's climate change obligations.
There is a wealth of information about this subject available to those interested in learning more, and I encourage all of us to learn as much as we can. But in terms of this letter I am talking about something that does not stem from the brain, it is from the gut and the heart.
In terms of the gut, I know my farm like no other person.
I see daily the 118 years of care, devotion and respect that has been poured into this slice of Aotearoa by four generations of my family.
It is indeed fifty shades of green and covered with a kaleidoscope of trees and plants that accentuate the landscape.
To suggest to me, as a sheep and beef farmer, that this farm and therefore my family are polluters makes me sick to the stomach. And if anyone, including you Jacinda, doesn't believe me I would be happy to show you for myself.
In terms of the heart, I never thought I would feel like I could not willingly pass on our farm to the next generation. That is not something that sits well with me and is the reason for this letter.
As leaders, sometimes it is forgotten what it means to lead. Our country faces the very real prospect of imploding if we do not tread carefully.
The level of division between rural and urban is at an all time high, and anti-farming sentiment is a very real concern.
It takes courage to take pause and sometimes go against popular opinion. I can only hope that you all as leaders listen to pleas such as this and take into consideration the effects your actions will have.
As farmers, we are not only fighting for our own futures, but for the futures of our children.
And that is one fight I am more than willing to take on.
To see our beautiful farm for yourself visit: www.rangitikeifarmstay.co.nz.