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We are spoilt for scientific choice

Last week saw a series of significant agricultural announcements.

It started with a statement from Ministers Todd McClay and Andrew Hoggard about freshwater farm plans. Much to the relief of farmers I’ve spoken to, they are to be reformed and simplified.

The old system was a complex, centrally driven behemoth that took no account of the region or farm. That’s about to change, with Hoggard telling us that a “fit-for-purpose freshwater farm plan will enable farmers and growers to find the right solution for their farm and catchment”.

That’s a huge step forward. For example, what may apply at Mount Bruce is unlikely to be relevant at Riversdale Beach. What could be relevant in Northland is unlikely to be relevant in Southland. You get the picture.

The announcement from Hoggards came hard on the heels of an announcement from Climate Change Minister Simon Watts and Agriculture Minister Todd McClay concerning the government’s methane review, where it wants science to rule over ideology.

That’s a major step forward from the previous He Waka Eke Noa exercise, and while its formation prevented agriculture from being put into the ETS and the split gas approach was finally acknowledged, nothing much else actually happened.

The government is spoiled for choice regarding qualified New Zealand scientists for its independent panel. Dr Andrew Reisinger is well qualified as Deputy Director, [International] of the NZ Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre. Dr Harry Clark is an internationally recognised authority on the issue. Professors Jacqueline Rowarth and David Frame would also have much to contribute.

Minister Watts said that ‘the independent review [will] hopefully put to bed, for now, the debate about how potent this gas is and how it contributes to climate change’. Realistically, I don’t think it will completely shut down criticism, whatever it says, because the anti-farming lunatic fringe will never be quiet and/or rational.

While the government is having a scientifically based evaluation of greenhouse gasses [GHG], the Climate Change Commission is about to embark on a long public consultation on the issues and its preferred outcomes. That sounds to me like an expanded HWEN talkfest. Give me science any time.

The Climate Change Commission has also told us that ‘there is no reason the goals for reducing climate pollution from livestock and waste should be watered down’.

Predictably, I disagree and can see no point in reducing New Zealand’s GHG footprint from ruminants if it is only going to increase international levels.

New Zealand farmers are the most efficient in the world for producing food with a low GHG footprint. If we don’t produce that food and production is moved offshore, the GHG profile will be higher with a greater threat to the climate.

It is, in my view, a complete no-brainer.

So last week was a good one for farming in New Zealand. With farm plans we’ve had a complex and largely irrelevant system reformed to something that is simple and relevant.

We’re also going to have science ruling over folklore on methane and nitrous oxide emissions from livestock.

Farmers will be pleased with both moves.

    Alan Emerson is a semi-retired writer, farmer and businessman living in Wairarapa. He writes a weekly column for Farmers Weekly and has written and/or edited five books.

Roger Parker
Roger Parker
Roger Parker is the Times-Age news director. In the Venn-diagram of his two great loves, news and sport, sports news is the sweet spot.

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