A thriving sheep and beef sector matters to all New Zealanders

// Industry

This week we sent a story to Stuff on our Kiwis Backing Farmers campaign and why a thriving sheep and beef farming sector is important for all New Zealanders. It ran on Stuff and in its regional newspapers.

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Many farmers and rural communities face a long road of recovery in the wake of Cyclone Gabrielle, while other farmers in parts of the South Island are grappling with extreme dry conditions.

These weather events also coincide with a challenging time for farmers because they’re facing rising costs and uncertain global markets.

Why does this matter to New Zealanders in towns and cities across the country?

Almost one-third of New Zealand’s sheep and half of New Zealand’s beef cattle are in the North Island regions that were subject to a state of emergency following the cyclones.  Another third of New Zealand’s sheep and one-in-seven (14 percent) of New Zealand’s beef cattle are in Otago and Southland.

This means two-thirds of New Zealand’s sheep flock and two-thirds of New Zealand’s beef cattle are in areas either suffering from the effects of the cyclones or suffering very dry conditions.
It also has a knock-on effect to the wider economy including businesses that service farms like vets, trucking companies, shearers and many more. Sheep and beef farmers spend almost $100m a week in rural communities as part of running their businesses.

Volatile global markets mean we have to work harder to earn export revenue for the nation to help pay for roads, hospitals and schools.

This inevitably leads to increased food prices at a time when so many New Zealanders are struggling financially as the cost-of-living crisis continues to affect us all

What’s really disappointing is that the Government is failing to recognise these pressures and relentlessly pressing ahead with a wave of flawed policies that are disproportionately impacting sheep and beef farmers and adding more cost to business.

That’s why Beef + Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ) and rural advocacy group 50 Shades of Green recently launched the Kiwis Backing Farmers campaign to highlight the overwhelming wave of Government policies threatening the future of sheep and beef farms, rural communities, and the wider economic impact they will have on all New Zealanders.

The scale and pace of change means we’ve ended up with a lot of poorly crafted and conflicting rules that are particularly bad for sheep and beef farmers, rural communities, and that won’t lead to better outcomes for the environment.

The Government needs to pause some of its policy programme and focus on getting the policies right before pressing on.

Areas such as biodiversity and the Resource Management Act reform are critical to get right for future generations. But the Government is rushing consultation and not engaging properly with the people on the ground who are expected to implement the policies.

There has also been a massive increase in farmland sold into forestry in the last few years driven by the carbon price and nearly all that land is sheep and beef land. In 2019, 7,000 hectares of sheep and beef land was sold into forestry; in 2021 that had rocketed to 52,000 hectares.

The Climate Change Commission, Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment and many NGOs are also calling on the Government to put limits on forestry offsets in the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).

Impractical freshwater reforms, excessive methane targets and heavy-handed measures that disincentivise biodiversity protection are among other policies that need fixing.

The Government’s own modelling shows that sheep and beef farmers will be most affected by a price on agricultural emissions, with potentially a 20 percent reduction in production. 

New Zealand is the first country in the world to look to put a price on agricultural emissions. It’s critical we take a cautious approach as this has never been tried before and we can’t risk driving some of the world’s most efficient farmers off the land.

If farmers are to face a price for their emissions, it’s also only fair they also get proper recognition for the trees on their farms that are sucking up carbon from the atmosphere.

Farmers are already playing their part, with methane emissions from the sheep and beef sector having reduced by 30 percent since 1990.  This greenhouse gas reduction is unmatched by any other industry.

The country’s current methane reduction targets are also excessive and out of step with science. They mean pastoral farming, and the sheep and beef sector, is being asked to do significantly more than users of fossil fuels.

Sheep and beef farmers are the largest custodians of indigenous biodiversity in New Zealand after the conservation estate, and they actively manage native vegetation on thousands of farms across New Zealand.

On average, about 25 percent of sheep and beef farms are covered in native vegetation and our farmers are very proud of this, yet the cumulative impact of all the policy changes on sheep and beef farmers is likely to drive many out of business.

This is why we’re asking people to get in behind our sector and call on the Government to reassess some of its policy plans. 

It’s important for New Zealand that the red meat sector performs well, because it generates more than $12 billion in income annually for NZ and supports 92,000 jobs (4.7 percent of total national employment) and communities.

We’re not against change, this is something farmers have faced over generations, we just need the Government to slow down, so farmers can navigate this financially challenging time, plan ahead, and ensure their businesses remain sustainable in every sense of the word.

The Prime Minister recently acknowledged the Government has gone too far, too fast and agriculture must be included in that list. 

We want the Government to engage properly with the people on the ground who are expected to implement the policies, and with those who are affected by the policies.

There is still work to be done, but farmers are committed to protecting and enhancing our environment. We need New Zealanders to stand with us to ensure this can happen.