General Election 2020: Primary sector snapshot

We know that Government policy is weighing on farmers’ minds at present.
Thursday, 1 October 2020

Sheep and beef farmer confidence has dropped to the lowest recorded level since August 2017, according to a recent survey by B+LNZ.

The survey by UMR Research found less than half (46%) of farmers were confident in the future of New Zealand’s sheep and beef industry compared to 58% in May 2020.

The southern South Island experienced the largest fall in confidence at 32% (down 27%), followed by central South Island at 42% (down 19%), and eastern North Island at 50% (down 16%).

We are hearing that a key factor behind the fall in confidence is the recent essential freshwater rules, but also concerns about the cumulative impact of law changes in the last couple of years such as the Zero Carbon Act, and changes to the Emissions Trading Scheme that has led to a surge in the conversion of sheep and beef farms into carbon farms. 

Farmers are also worried about the potential impact of significant policies such as biodiversity, which have been parked until early next year. Other things affecting confidence are the lingering impacts of drought across parts of the country and uncertainty in export markets as a result of COVID-19.  

With that in mind, we have provided a snapshot of some of the recent key election campaign primary sector policy announcements made by political parties that were represented in the 52nd Parliament.

Farm planning

While the Labour Party’s commitment to spend $50 million to help farmers with their farm planning processes is welcome, we want the incoming government to support the industry plans that are already either in place or in development, rather than creating a new one or ‘re-inventing the wheel. 

B+LNZ is working on a new farm planning process that is focused on the environment, which will help farmers better run their business, best manage their environmental risks, meet consumer expectations and assist farmers to meet their regulatory requirements for water, climate change and biodiversity.  B+LNZ would like this farm plan to be accepted as the certified farm plan for essential freshwater.  

In 2018, the red meat sector launched the New Zealand Farm Assurance Programme (NZFAP), which all meat processing companies are now using. This has compressed a number of different assurance programmes into one and saved farmers and the sector a lot of money. 

New Zealand First has been clear it favours a move away from resource consenting towards standardised and certified Farm Environment Plans.

Carbon farming

Beef + Lamb New Zealand welcomes the recognition by most political parties about the issue of large swathes of pastoral farmland, including whole farms, being converted to carbon farming as a result of the rise in the price of carbon credits and other drivers. This follows significant advocacy and campaigning from B+LNZ, farming groups like 50 Shades of Green, and the wider industry.

It is vital any incoming government introduces mechanisms to limit carbon farming forestry offsetting before too much damage is done to our rural communities and the long-term viability of our sector and economy. A new government that is serious about climate change must focus on putting measures in place to actually reduce emissions from fossil fuel use as opposed to incentivising the offsetting of emissions on productive farmland.

We hope to work with the new government on ways to resolve this important issue.  One option that has been put forward is limiting forestry through the RMA consenting process, which we do not favour as it does not make sense to deal with an issue caused by one piece of legislation through a secondary piece of legislation as it creates confusion.  Also, consents can still be granted, which provides no certainty.  

Climate change and emissions 

As a signatory to the He Waka Eke Noa Primary Sector Climate Action Partnership, we welcome the commitment from Labour, NZ First and National to continue this joint approach to managing on farm greenhouse gas emissions. The sector took an active role in developing the concept and we are encouraging the incoming government to take a similar co-design approach in other policy areas.

When He Waka Eke Noa was established, the primary sector was pleased the coalition government recognised it did not make sense for agriculture to join the ETS and agreed to work towards establishing a separate system.  We were unhappy, however, about the review clause the Government inserted into the legislation that would automatically bring agriculture in the ETS in 2022 if enough progress was not made under He Waka Eke Noa.  

The sector has been working very hard on the implementation of He Waka Eke Noa since its launch, but this is the first time a country has tried to set up a framework for agricultural emissions and the 2022 review clause creates uncertainty.  We therefore welcome National’s undertaking to look at this review clause.  

We are also pleased that a number of political parties including ACT and National have explicitly noted the short-lived nature of biogenic methane emissions and the need to use a more appropriate metric to more adequately represent methane’s impact on warming, and determine New Zealand’s methane reduction targets. While B+LNZ supported the ground-breaking split-gas approach taken in the Zero Carbon Act, there are still issues with New Zealand’s methane targets not being in line with the latest science.

In April, Climate Change Minister James Shaw requested the Climate Change Commission review and provide advice to the Government on New Zealand’s international greenhouse gas reduction target and asked the Commission to take a specific look at the reductions required from biogenic methane emissions. B+LNZ is calling for the incoming government to launch a formal review of the Zero Carbon Act targets as allowed under the act.

Another key priority for the Sector under He Waka Eke Noa is seeking recognition of the sequestration happening on sheep and beef farms from the significant tracks of native forest. If farmers are to face a price for emissions, it is vital they also get credit for the role they are playing in sequestering carbon.  

Freshwater

Freshwater quality remains a major priority for the sector, including progressing work at farm level to improve our rivers, lakes and other waterways. There is significant momentum within the farming community, as evidenced by the development of catchment communities over the last few years.  

We do, however, have concerns about the recently released essential freshwater rules. While the Government improved some of the rules during the consultation process (such as the removal of many of the ‘grandparenting’ provisions and a more pragmatic approach to fencing in the hill country), there remain significant concerns about the overly prescriptive approach to winter grazing and issues around the low slope map for stock exclusion.  

We support the National Party’s undertaking to review some of the rules, if elected. NZ First has also said that some of the rules are impractical such as resowing dates, pugging definition, accuracy of mapping and achievable DIN limits. 

Water quality is a top priority for farmers, like all New Zealanders, and progress needs to continue to be made in this area. 

B+LNZ is a member of the Ministry for the Environment’s Freshwater Implementation Group and will continue to seek improvements in the rules through this channel as well.   

Biodiversity

Overall, the sector is supportive of the intent of the draft National Policy Statement on Indigenous Biodiversity (NPSIB) released last year, however we welcome the decision to postpone decisions on the NPSIB until after the election because we have significant concerns about elements of the  policy proposals. 

In particular, we are seeking to refine the definitions of Significant Natural Area (SNA) to avoid unduly capturing large swathes of land; to recognise that biodiversity protection and productive landscapes can be effectively integrated; and ensure those that have already committed the most to biodiversity protection are not disadvantaged as a result of their good work in the past. 

We believe that in relation to environmental policy, a focus first on sustainably managing, and where required, building indigenous biodiversity within productive farming landscapes, would deliver multiple benefits across ecosystems.

Regenerative farming 

B+LNZ cautions any political party advocating for a wholesale adoption of regenerative farming practices to wait until research into the discipline has been completed.

B+LNZ is undertaking a significant global study into regenerative agriculture to understand its similarities and differences to New Zealand farming practices, the opportunities for farmers, and a global consumer perspective to understand what potential there is for New Zealand’s red meat exports to extract more value from sheep and beef products.

Infrastructure 

B+LNZ supports more water storage and distribution solutions to help make urban and rural New Zealand more resilient to droughts and improved rural connectivity and welcomes the recognition of this by some of the political parties.

For more information on the various political party announcements on agriculture, please visit: