…says thousands of farmers across the country. But what does that really mean?
You don’t have to look far to see that the agricultural industry is going through a difficult time. Over the last year, there have been dozens of protests by farmers and many others who work within the agriculture sector.
The most memorable of all have been the tractor protests, which have seen farmers driving their tractors on roads through areas such as Whangarei, Bluff and 56 other urban centres. The tractors had signs taped on to them that had things such as ‘No Farm, No Food” and “We feed the world”, written on them. These protests, organised by the advocacy group, Groundswell, where done this way in order to disrupt traffic and as a result force people to be more aware of the issue. Others organised simpler, yet equally passionate protests, also chanting the phrase ‘No Farms, No Food”.
These protests, and many others, have all been a response to the government’s emission reduction plan that started last year and the difficulties that farmers have faced as a result.
To combat the urgent and worsening problem of global warming, the government proposed an emission reduction plan that aims to help the country reach net zero emissions by 2050. This ambitious target includes over 300 actions to be taken across many industries including transport, energy, forestry and of course, agriculture—an industry the government has particularly emphasised in last year’s report.
As most of us have grown up during the cusp of the climate crisis, the need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions will not be foreign news. But how has the announcement of the emissions reduction plan been received by farmers?
There is no denying that the agricultural industry carries much of the responsibility for harmful greenhouse gas emissions. In Aotearoa, farming makes up 50 percent of our total emissions, particularly nitrous oxide and biogenic methane that are released by farm animals and certain fertilisers. The lingering of these gases in the atmosphere allows them to absorb the longwave radiation that the earth’s surface emits and reradiate it back towards the earth. A moderate and natural amount of greenhouse gases is necessary, however a significant increase results in our atmosphere being far warmer than it should be.
In a press conference last year, Jacinda Ardern also said that climate change is already beginning to heavily impact our agricultural industry. As we’ve all seen over the last few months, the erratic cycles of flooding and drought that have wreaked havoc on farms all over Aotearoa. The recent flooding has not only destroyed vegetable crops but has also oversaturated the soil making it incredibly difficult to replant.
After profusely highlighting these points, the government then justified taxing all farms for greenhouse gas emissions. Farmers will be asked to submit annual reports that outline information about their farm area, livestock numbers, production and their use of nitrogen fertilisers. This information will then be used to calculate the estimated emissions of greenhouse gases emitted and then the farmers will be taxed accordingly. The more gas emissions, the more farmers will have to pay.
It is not surprising that not long after this was announced, agricultural workers took to their tractors and flooded the streets in frustration. This included both rural communities of farmers and larger advocacy groups, such as Groundswell NZ. Their point was simple; taxing farms for emissions will mean the end of many farms, especially those that lack the financial and technological advancements to pay the extra costs that will soon be required of them.
While the government’s plan does include a dedicated budget to help fast forward current research on gas emissions, they have set aside very little funding to support farmers with technology that could help them reduce their emissions. Even if the research the government has invested in eventually produces technology that can significantly reduce agricultural emissions, farmers will still be expected to pay these taxes for several years, without receiving much tangible help. A Groundswell NZ organiser commented on this saying that most farms will not be able to afford these taxes and the government has set up “unworkable regulations”.
Several farmers and even political parties like ACT have pointed out that although this policy aims to cut the country’s emissions, it may do nothing for global emissions. New Zealand’s population is small but growing, and our demand for produce and dairy is eminent. If local farms either close as a result of not being able to pay the additional taxes, or begin to rapidly up their prices to pass the cost of the emissions taxes onto consumers, we will very quickly start relying on international exports to supply the products our local market cannot. This rapid shift will only apply pressure on regions of the world such as other countries in the Pacific or Asia, that do not have emission restrictions.
So what does this mean for the rest of us? Well, if these protests aren’t sounding the alarm bells loud enough for you, then just look at your receipt the next time you go grocery shopping. What ridiculous price are you paying for your tomatoes or eggs? Of course, the current skyrocketing prices of food is not only attributed to this new plan. However, it has intensified the problem as farmers are unsure they will be able to pay the emission taxes that are coming their way.
In the next few years we may reduce our emissions, but we will have most likely increased the emissions of other countries. That brings into question whether our government’s plan is more concerned with assisting the global climate crisis, or with acquiring that #1 spot in a blogger’s list about the “Top 10 Most Environmentally Friendly Countries to Visit”. Are we trying to prevent our extinction, or are we simply trying to maintain our eco-friedly reputation?
But when you look at the bigger picture, the arguments for the emissions reduction plan cannot simply be dismissed. After all, climate action is well overdue, especially with the events we have seen over the last few months. However, taking drastic measures that will rapidly pressure the agricultural industry to reform, leaving us with less food, money and jobs, is also not the answer.
It is without question a tricky situation! Is there even a middle ground that can be reached? If there is a middle ground or fair compromise that exists somewhere, it is highly unlikely that we will be able to find it working against farmers, instead of collaborating with the agricultural industry.
There needs to be some sort of balance between the support that farmers are receiving, the taxes they have to pay and the demands we place on our biggest export industry. It is time to include the opinions and voices of those who work in agriculture and have dedicated their lives to this industry. Their views will provide a deeper insight into what changes the industry can handle, what the government can do to help, and more importantly subsidise, in order to make those reforms happen.
BACKGROUND BY RUBY ESTHER | TITLE BY THEEPIKA ARUNACHALAM