Agriculture Minister explains farmers and climate would benefit from a focus on profits over production

News 16/07/2019

Minister of Agriculture Damien O’Connor joins Magic Talk Drive on the news that the Government and farming sector leaders have reached an agreement over climate change, which would see on-farm emissions accounted for by 2025.

In an announcement on Tuesday, farming groups are to work with the Government to implement farm-level pricing of climate change emissions from the sector.

Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor said the cooperation and consensus between the farming sector and the Government was an incredibly important shift from farmers and growers on the need to tackle climate change.

Guest host Brendan Telfer begins the interview asking if after 20 years or more in which farmers have resisted Government attempts to embrace Climate Change proposals have they really been persuaded.

The Minister says, “yes, we have. We have been through a process with an interim climate change commission.”

“The issue we had was do we have the point of obligation at the processor or at the farm.”

Do we incentivise the farmer or is it done indirectly through the processor?

“We now have in principle farming sector leaders committing to including agriculture in the Emission Trading Scheme.”

That's a world first, we really are leading the way there.

Telfer then asks as the announcement does not take effect until 2025 is that too late for all the damage that will be caused in the meantime?

Damien disagrees and compliments that farmers saying, “that’s unfair, farmers have been doing a whole lot to change their practices. 

Farmers are saying if we’re going to be a part of it we want to firstly be rewarded for good behaviour or disincentivised for bad behaviour.

That’s a fair enough point that they make. 

The deal has had some criticism with Greenpeace New Zealand’s Russel Norman describing a tax of one cent per kilogram of milk solids as ‘laughable’ raising questions if farmers have gotten their way.

He’s fair to say it's a relatively small impost.

“We’re an economy that depends on biological production and livestock for wealth creation.”

We can't stop that overnight because we’ll all be poorer for it.

“So we’re working with farmers on better farm practice improve direction of travel will benefit us all.”

Brendan raises the concerns of farmers claiming that falling prices create an environment where any extra tax will place their livelihoods on the line.

The Minister contrasts that with the other extreme of claiming that all livestock should be culled saying, “there's a happy medium and some truth in the middle there.”

“Yes, they're concerned about changing farm prices but they have got to have more resilient farming systems in place.”

They've got to be more efficient.

“They have got to take on board the reality that we need to be committed internationally to climate change issues.”

Brendan then asked for any “concrete factual commitments” that the agriculture sector have given the Government that will reduce harmful emissions.

He responds that “there are two options in the paper.” One option he explains is to control emission through a ‘process obligation”. A small impost that would pay into a fund used for more research into climate change.

An alternative offered by the agriculture leaders is to work with the Government to calculate emissions on the farm, change practices before introducing farms to the Emission Trading Scheme in 2025.

I think that the clear signal from Government is that they’re going to be in the scheme.

“We’re going to assist farmers to take up better practices to reduce emissions but not income because we all need that sector wealth.

On practical steps that farmers could take the Minister agrees wholeheartedly.

“Yes absolutely, some farmers talk production and stock numbers while some talk profits.

There is a growing number of farmers focusing on profits.

“You don't have to have the same numbers to have greater profits.” 

He criticises the policies of the past when “the previous Government told farmers to double exports, just double the effort put in.”

We want you to get more for what you do not just to do more.

“To focus on profits and not just production is major change and more farmers are doing that everyday.

He describes the benefits of focusing on profits as giving farmers a chance for “less effort, less intense system and actually have more time with my family and more money.”

Watch the full interview above.