Farmers need to engage emotionally with their sector’s environmental critics, highlighting their links to the land, Fairlie Basin farmer Mark Adams told Beef + Lamb’s annual meeting in Timaru.
“We can come across as entitled and defensive but fact-based.
“When our stewardship is challenged we get defensive and stop listening,” he said.
Farmers should match emotional arguments their critics use.
Adams, who chairs B+LNZ’s environmental reference group, said the Government and regulators also have to tread carefully in their rule-making.
“As the landowners, we hold the major card.”
He compared environmental issues today to the economic reform in the 1980s.
“Those reforms had to happen but the timeframes were unrealistic and caused a lot of carnage to rural businesses and families.
“We need to challenge the Government and regulators to learn from the past and be realistic.”
He warned the outcome will be minimum compliance if rule-making is too prescriptive.
But good progress is being made by farmers.
In his farmer catchment group there has been a complete change of views on water issues over three or four years of activity through having the ability to break down the data and identify problems. The experience has been an education and it is important to continue the momentum.
Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor was to be part of a panel discussion but had Cabinet commitments after the Christchurch mosque shootings.
So Ministry for Primary Industries domestic climate change manager Nicky Ablitt said this year is very busy with Government policy intervention. Five major consultations are planned across water quality, climate change and emissions, biodiversity and the Zero Carbon Bill.
Consultation will be focused. Just two weeks at the start of May are planned for consultation on climate change, on a report to be released at the end of April so it is important farmers are ready for that.
“The more input you have now the better we can do for you, rather than spending the next 10 to 15 years on tweaks.”
Ablitt acknowledged farmers do a lot more practical work on the ground than people in Wellington, who do not always have that at front of mind.
National Party climate change spokesman Todd Muller is negotiating with ministers on legislation plans and said farmers face the prospect of having to understand, document and measure their farm impacts on the environment as well as facing greater consumer demands over sustainable productivity, regardless of who is in government.
National supports farmer efforts to increase the value of their product as world population and food demand grows.
It will support changes as long as farmers are given access to broad international science and to technical solutions to practically solve problems.
It will not support taxing the sector into oblivion or demands just that stock numbers be cut.
Climate change measures will also need to be at the same pace as our trading partners. He rejected claims by a chunk of NZ the pace is not fast enough.
NZ First MP Mark Patterson, a sheep and beef farmer, said the Zero Carbon Bill has to be a broad Parliamentary project so there will not be wild policy swings with changes of government.
B+LNZ chairman Andrew Morrison said the industry has to remain productive but everything now has to have an environmental perspective.
Success will not rest on producing more so the value of exports has to be raised and that will be based on consumer demand.
Chief executive Sam McIvor said climate change is one of the issues on which farming is being targeted in media campaigns.
The group has formulated an environment strategy intended to be world-leading. A critical part of it was that every farmer should have an environmental plan and the success of the catchment groups is a sign of farmer support for these initiatives.
B+LNZ has extensively researched public attitudes to the industry, reviewing half-a-million social media posts, doing direct surveys of people and having consumer focus groups. That work found nine out of 10 people in NZ still regularly eat red meat and only 2% of social media comment about changing diets is about reducing meat consumption.
B+LNZ policy and advocacy general manager Dave Harrison said the requirement for NZ farming to produce no more climate warming can be achieved by reducing methane emissions by between 10% and 22% by 2050. Methane makes up 48% of NZ’s greenhouse gases but is a short-lived flow gas, staying just 12 years in the atmosphere.
Source: Farmers Weekly