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Press Release

Putting the media on notice about the Farming Tax

Bryce, Laurie, Mel, and the Team at Groundswell NZ

The Farming Tax is fast approaching, with the date for finalising agricultural emissions pricing options under the He Waka Eke Noa (HWEN) Partnership set for 31 May.

The public debate about agricultural emissions pricing has been sorely lacking in serious discussion about how pricing (taxing) emissions will affect grassroots farmers and growers and devoid of rigorous consideration about how pricing will actually reduce global emissions.

Between many of the HWEN Partner organisations preferring to apologise for Government policy, rather than represent their farmers and growers, and a complicit mainstream media treating any criticism of the Government’s particular climate policy as denying climate change, the New Zealand public and agriculture sector have been left with a poor excuse for a public policy debate.

That’s why we wrote an open letter to the New Zealand Media, demanding fair coverage of the alternatives to the Government’s emissions pricing (taxing) plans and explaining where they’ve gone wrong.

The policies of the New Zealand Government don’t determine how much food the world eats, but they do decide whether or not that food is produced by the most emissions efficient food-producers in the world, New Zealand farmers and growers.

Punishing our domestic agriculture sector with a tax on emissions will just increase global emissions, as the less efficient foreign agriculture sectors take up the room left in the market, all the while making New Zealand poorer.

Read our open letter to the media below.

Thank you for your support.

Groundswell NZ

26 May 2022

Dear New Zealand Media

Agricultural emissions pricing and its coverage in media

Final recommendations from the He Waka Eke Noa (HWEN) agricultural emissions pricing scheme are due to be presented to the Government by 31st of May. Groundswell NZ is strongly opposed to putting a price on farm emissions, we represent a widely shared view among grassroots farmers in New Zealand. Our request to all media is that farmers’ concerns with emissions policy be given a fair hearing in the court of public opinion. In some cases reporting has described farmers as major polluters unwilling to change their practices, this is an unfair take on the farmer perspective.

Many farmers have been addressing environmental issues, including emissions, for decades through initiatives such as Catchment Board tree plantings and the 2.5 million hectares of native vegetation on private land. Farmers are ready and willing to further reduce farm emissions but they want a policy that will work, HWEN is not that policy.

The HWEN pricing mechanism will create a multitude of perverse outcomes, many of which have not been well explained to the New Zealand public. Traditional industry groups have let farmers down in this respect, so Groundswell NZ is doing what we can to give them a voice. Our hope is that this will create a better understanding between farmers and the public, allowing for better policy to be implemented. A contracting rural economy will affect all New Zealanders, increasing food prices, sending jobs offshore, growing the trade deficit, and reducing the tax revenue that supports our standard of living. It is critical for our country to get emissions policy right.

Key concerns with HWEN that have not been satisfactorily addressed are listed below:

  • Taxing the most efficient producers in the world will result in emissions leakage, this is where New Zealand production is replaced by less efficient overseas production, leading to an increase in global emissions.
  • HWEN will reduce New Zealand’s contribution to global food supply during a developing food crisis. The UN has clearly stated that climate policy should not compromise food production, this aspect of the Paris Agreement has been selectively ignored by our Government.
  • HWEN will both reduce the availability and increase the price of local produce in supermarkets. Food imports, which typically have a higher GHG footprint, will not be taxed on their emissions. This will, in fact, increase the GHG footprint of agricultural goods consumed in New Zealand.
  • There are few proven mitigation technologies available to help farmers reduce emissions that have not already been widely implemented. Over 10 years, $200 million has been spent on research with little in the way of viable options produced. Without technology, emissions reductions mean farmers must cull animals to meet Government reduction targets.
  • A broad-based emissions tax is a highly impractical mechanism for incentivising production efficiency. Every farm is different and production efficiency will naturally vary according to farm type. HWEN will pick winners and losers often based on limitations outside the control of farmers.
  • The majority of on farm carbon sequestration produced by trees is excluded by HWEN.
  • Farmers question why $1 billion per year of ETS funds will be sent overseas when there is both capacity and need to incentivise native plantings, following the ‘right tree right place’ principle, in this country.
  • The proposed pricing mechanism will put an unsustainable strain on many extensive sheep and beef farm finances. Many will be forced to sell up to carbon farming ventures.
  • Pricing farm emissions will take money away from other on-farm environmental spending.
  • The time spent on compliance is already putting a significant burden on farmers.

He Waka Eke Noa has been set up for the explicit purpose of taxing farmers. This has obstructed industry leaders and Government from looking objectively at the most effective ways to reduce farm emissions. Groundswell NZ believes a more considered approach will achieve better outcomes for farmers and the environment.

It is often reported that agriculture contributes around half of New Zealand’s total emissions. This is an overly simplistic way to describe agriculture’s effect on climate.  Around 80% of agriculture’s emissions are biogenic Methane, these emissions have remained largely stable since 1990 and contribute very little if any additional warming to the atmosphere. Agriculture’s Methane emissions must only reduce by 0.3% per year to ensure no additional warming. Much like a CO2 emitter that reaches net zero, the historic warming associated with that business remains in the atmosphere, but no further warming is produced. Balanced reporting on agriculture’s gross emissions should contain a sentence noting that 80% of those emissions are not adding to further climate change.

Another point of contention for many farmers is the reporting of gross emissions without mention of the millions of hectares of farm trees that help offset agriculture’s emissions. Their offsetting capability is significant – a point that has been acknowledged by the He Waka Eke Noa Partnership. Due to the lack of research funding allocated towards quantifying the sequestration these trees offer, we accept it is difficult to report on sequestration in any detail. In our view, some acknowledgement that agriculture also sequesters large amounts of CO2, which is not currently included in emissions budgets, would be important context to include.

Traditional rural advocates, such as DairyNZ and Beef & Lamb, have not been challenging the ongoing misrepresentation of agricultural emissions in the media. Farmers are greatly frustrated by this, as it has allowed the New Zealand public to develop a misleading impression of our industry’s effect on climate change. Please do not assume inaction by some rural advocates as an acceptance that current reporting provides a fair and balanced portrayal of our industry.

All media outlets are welcome to contact Groundswell NZ for more details on our emissions proposals and why we strongly disagree with the current policy strategy for agricultural emissions.

Yours faithfully

Groundswell NZ

Steven Cranston (Groundswell NZ emissions policy spokesperson)
Bryce Mackenzie (Groundswell NZ co-leader)
Laurie Paterson (Groundswell NZ co-leader)

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