2 Nov 2017

Climate goal 'unachievable' without change

7:26 pm on 2 November 2017

The government's goal of a zero carbon economy by 2050 is unachievable if farming stays the way it is today, agribusiness leader Mandy Bell says.

FOR WATER TAX story first - Generic Central Otago

Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

She said that was because there was no clear plan or direction from the farming sector, not enough information reaching farmers, and the industry worked in silos.

The Labour-led government wants to introduce a Zero Carbon Act with the goal of net zero for greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

It also wants to include agriculture in the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), which would be decided by a new Climate Commission.

Ms Bell farms in Central Otago, has spent 15 years as a veterinarian, and is part of 'Rongoawai' or One Health - which works with farmers and water catchment groups to improve environmental outcomes.

Agribusiness leader Mandy Bell

Agribusiness leader Mandy Bell Photo: Supplied / Nadine Cagney Photography 2010

The six challenges she said need urgent attention were water and the environment, climate change, animal welfare and health, disruptive technologies, global markets, and a changing world of food.

Ms Bell said there was no group addressing all those, and that needed to change.

"We actually can't sit back any longer, we can't work on this incrementally, and we can't work on it in silos because we won't meet those challenges in the time that we need to."

She believed that to get the sector out of its current rut, an independent group with leaders from the farming sector should be formed as soon as possible.

"It could be very simple ... there is some very good work going on in various spaces but again I see it as siloed.

"Let's draw a line in the sand and get key people in the room."

The group would need to be government funded but must be led by the industry, not the government, Ms Bell said.

'Future thinking session' well overdue

Polluted river

Photo: RNZ

Ms Bell said the independent group should include influencers and key people in the farming industries who were not on sitting on a board.

It would confirm what New Zealand farmers were currently doing, what they were not doing, where the sector needed to move to, what challenges needed to be understood and tackled, where the crossovers and gaps were and whether or not the right resources were available.

"Have what I call a 'future thinking session', and that's looking 20 to 30 years out ... looking at a strategic way - five years out - is not far enough.

"Then, work backwards: What is your strategic plan across those six challenges, who is doing what, have you fully engaged and communicated with your farmers and associated businesses?"

The sector needed to shift and be organised now more than ever because of the pace of change and the horsepower behind overseas companies creating synthetic foods, she said.

"We need to do what we've been talking about for a long time."

Ms Bell is the niece of Sir Peter Elworthy - a farming leader who, during the reforms in the 1980's, stood up to talk about the opportunities that would come from the removal of subsidies and protecting the environment. Thoughts which were dismissed by farming leaders at the time.

Mr Elworthy and Ms Bell's father Richard Batchelor have influenced her work in the sector, and their mentoring led to her being the chair of the Otago Deerfarmers Association, among other leadership roles.

She said farmers understood the challenges and what needed to happen, but the industry had to go a step further.

"We need to move to the 'how'. That timeframe is getting tighter and tighter ... it's quite do-able because we've got very good people and we're very creative - that's what farmers do on a daily basis."

She said the government's goal was not achievable with farming as it is today, but if the sector got itself together New Zealand could be a zero-carbon economy by 2050.

'A lot of work to be done'

Cow beef cattle generic

Photo: 123RF

Beef and Lamb New Zealand's general manager for policy and advocacy Dave Harrison said there was a lot of work to be done.

"The red meat sector has made huge strides. We're already 19 percent below 1990 levels, and we're continuing to track down.

"Going forward we can't expect there to be a magic bullet in terms of technology ... we do need to think about our systems."

Mr Harrison said people also need to recognise some of the work in the sector.

"There is a lot of wooded gulleys and a lot of pasture in New Zealand that is sequestering carbon, but that isn't being recognised within our current policy framework.

"There's a big opportunity there for extensive farmers to be moving towards carbon neutral in the future, we just need to do a wee bit of science and understand it a bit better."

When asked what the pastoral sector's vision is for agriculture and reducing emissions or paying for emissions, Mr Harrison said part of Beef and Lamb's 'red meat story' project is looking at how to market New Zealand meat well.

"That's why the environment is really at the centre of Beef and Lamb's strategy going forward. We really want to be in a position where we can tell a story that's kind of authentic."

He said this comes back to being honest about what the problems are, and being accountable for them.

"If we're open about that, people don't expect perfection they just expect honesty and people working on things they need to be working on."

A key emphasis of Beef and Lamb New Zealand is to build up new farming leaders so they don't burn out the ones they do have, Mr Harrison said.

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