‘Drastic’ climate proposals criticised

Peak cow? Cows in a paddock near Kaitangita. PHOTO: Gregor Richardson

Dairy farms will be put out of business if Greenpeace Aotearoa has its way, a spokesman for the Southland dairy sector says.

Greenpeace Aotearoa agriculture campaigner Christine Rose said it was calling for the Government to halve the dairy herd, cut synthetic nitrogen fertiliser and shift to more plant-based regenerative organic farming to reduce emissions from New Zealand’s “worst climate polluter”.

Southland Federated Farmers dairy chairman Bart Luyten said halving the dairy heard was “quite a drastic measure”.

“It would put a lot of farms out of business.”

Herd numbers were already decreasing naturally as a result of land-use change, he said.

Examples were “places like the Bay of Plenty and Nelson where there are already farms converting into orchards”.

Trying to artificially reduce herd numbers did not make sense when there was a demand for dairy and meat.

“Whatever measure we’re taking, it’s not supposed to affect the amount of food produced around the world.”

Cutting nitrogen fertiliser would only add to food problems, he said.

“Worldwide, nitrogen fertiliser is a way to enhance our crops, to enhance the feed we grow. By the use of nitrogen fertiliser, we can actually feed the whole world’s population.

“If we stop using nitrogen fertiliser, we’re going to have a massive shortfall in food produced.”

Potential alternatives to nitrogen fertiliser were less cost-effective, he said.

“I’m not sure that’s a path we want to go down at the moment when there’s already a lot of pressure on inflation and rising food prices.”

Mr Luyten saw nothing wrong with encouraging plant-based food, but said diet should be an individual’s personal choice.

“I certainly wouldn’t like to get dictated by Greenpeace how my diet should look like.”

Research was under way to make dairy farming practices more environmentally friendly, Mr Luyten said.

“They’re looking at inhibitors for cows to produce less methane. Fonterra’s coming up with a seaweed additive that they’re very hopeful that can be beneficial.

“Those sort of things will come into play and that’ll help us in cutting our emissions.

“I do feel like the science will catch up.”

However, Ms Rose said modelling by NZ SeaRise showed the sea level could rise twice as fast as previously thought in some parts of the country.

“It’s a brutal injustice that New Zealanders living on the coast will pay the price of climate change, while the dairy industry continues to pollute unhindered.

“The emissions reduction plan must turn around the farming sector, from being Aotearoa’s biggest polluter, into a solution for tackling climate change and restoring nature, through more plant-based regenerative organic agriculture,” she said.

The Government’s response to the climate crisis to date had been “desperately inadequate”, she said.

Despite the Government declaring a climate emergency and pledging to reduce methane emissions by 30% by 2030, industrial dairy had been given a free pass.

“Both the emissions trading scheme – where the taxpayer pays for the dairy sector’s emissions – and the agri-industry alternative, He Waka Eke Noa [are] expected to reduce emissions by less than 1%.”

Mr Luyten said penalising the dairy sector for feeding people would be “backwards”.

“It comes down to economics.

“If land-use change is going to be more beneficial, that’s where our business will end up going which is unfortunate I think.”

Farmers would leave the sector as they found more profitable uses for their farms, which could include planting carbon forests, he said.

“That is going to be a real sad outcome I think.

“Eating bark from trees .. it’s not going to feed the world.”

Agriculture could be part of the solution, rather than the problem, he said.

“My plants use CO2 air to grow. We are sequestering carbon. It’s one of the only few industries that is able to do that.”