25 Feb 2022

Farmer sick of being labelled a 'climate vandal'

From Afternoons, 1:50 pm on 25 February 2022

Sheep and beef farmer Dave Read says he's fed up with people demonising him as someone who's contributing to climate change.

He's also penned an opinion piece for Stuff, outlining that he's very much concerned about global warming and conscious of his carbon foot print.

Dave Read.

Dave Read. Photo: Supplied.

He tells Jesse Mulligan farmers have a vested interest in arresting climate breakdown and people’s assumptions of the sector of wrong. He also says the government's market approach to the problem isn't solving anything and transport was the primary emissions villain.

“We’re at the sharp end of it in farming. Climate change is going to have a big effect on us,” he says.

The Hawke’s Bay man was a shearer for 10 years and then transitioned to farming in 1990. His farm is comprised of about 1200ha of hilly land.  “We produce high-quality protein. The only use for the land is that or forestry really. We can’t be growing food crops.”

Over the years he has planted thousands of willow and poplar trees to reduce erosion, as well as look after protected native bush on his land. “They are doing a good job at sequestering carbon as well at the moment,” he adds.

He wrote the piece on Stuff to communicate to the public that farmers are individuals, many of whom were acting to reduce carbon and protect the environment.

“I was sick of being demonised, bit worse than that was the focus on agriculture and sheep and beef in particular has diverted our attention away from transport," Read says.

“As I said in my piece, I’m a really keen skier and I used to travel to the northern hemisphere to ski, until I did the calculation and realised that three weeks’ skiing was emitting more carbon than I emitted in two years living at home.

“That’s the power of knowing your number. All farmers in New Zealand will know their number by the end of this year, and it would be really cool if other people knew their number as well.”

He says methane emitted by cattle is also short-lived and that beef and sheep farming is causing less global warming now than it did in 1990.

“Annual emissions con us into thinking whatever in the past is gone, but with carbon dioxide every single thing you’ve done in the past is still up there, still warming the planet year after year," he says.

“So in contrast to the beef and sheep industry transport is producing the warming that it did in 1990.”

He claims the farming sector is tracking well due to efficiencies in practice.

“There’s a difference here between beef and sheep, and dairy. Both of us chase efficiency but sheep and beef has chased it hugely.

“Basically, we have used it to produce more lambs and faster. So much kilo of grass you eat produces a certain amount of methane and you’re not less animals you’re eating less grass. That’s the bottom line really and also that methane is only there for a certain time, a bit over 12 years.”

He makes a distinction between rates of warming and emissions, with methane only remaining in the atmosphere for a period, it’s cumulative effect lesser than other pollutants.

Farmers now know the extent of carbon they are emitting each year because of the provisions of Waka Eke Noa. The five-year programme allows farmers and growers to measure, manage and reduce on-farm emissions.

Farmers were spared from being included in the Trading Emissions Scheme, which New Zealand First and Labour had originally agreed would be the case. It was a move widely criticised by environmentalists.

The scheme is a market-based approach for reducing emissions, putting a price on emissions by charging industry sectors on the amounts emitted annually.

Those involved in Waka Eke Noa include Apiculture, NZ, Beef + Lamb New Zealand, DairyNZ, DCANZ, Deer Industry NZ, Federation of Māori Authorities, Federated Farmers of New Zealand, Foundation for Arable Research, Horticulture NZ, Irrigation NZ, Meat Industry Association, Ministry for Primary Industries and Ministry for the Environment.

Read isn’t happy with how Waka Eke Noa measures emissions. “The only trouble is we’re being forced into a metric that’s based on annual emissions, rather than warming, which is a travesty really, to put it bluntly.”

Transport produces two-and-a-half times the rate of warming than farmers, yet the sector was perceived as the villain, he said.

He claimed that was undue focus put on farmers, even when farmers were sacrificing land to plant trees that could never be used again for farming. These also have to be protected from disease and fire, a huge task given the climate threat of droughts, he added.

“We’re looking at mitigating our emissions by planting trees and the bulk of those are being planted on sheep and beef farms and a huge amount is being planted in my area. We’re seeing 1000ha per month being lost from a little tiny area and each of those 1000ha is seven jobs gone.”

He says planting trees and sequencing carbon isn’t enough to make an impact on climate breakdown, unless transport is addressed. The ETS was also flawed in its market approach to meeting the country’s climate commitments.

“It’s not a scheme to solve a problem, it’s a scheme to make money out of a problem and we need to actually change behaviours,” he says.

“We don’t have to wait for technology to help us and we should be making those social changes now. You go out on the road now and eight-out-of-10 cars have one person in it. We could change that tomorrow, if we had the will. We’ve declared a climate emergency, but we’re not actually doing anything. We’re delaying our actions.”

“We’re happy to do our bit and I’m happy to do more than my bit if I can, but I don’t like seeing my community absolutely gutted and depopulated for no good reason.”