Environment Minister wants to regulate to force cow destocking

Yesterday the Environment Minister David Parker said in a Q&A interview that environmental regulations were needed to push down the number of cows in New Zealand.

Asked whether regulations would force farmers to destock Parker said “In some areas, it will”.

He says that the Government has won the political battle in a representative democracy so can do what they want – but they still may need the support of NZ First.

Corin Dann You did promise a lot, in Opposition, on water and on cleaning up our rivers, making them swimmable. Will you deliver on that?

David Parker Most certainly. I’ve spent a lot of my life trying to fight for environmental causes. This is my last time through cabinet, and I’ll have failed as a politician if I don’t use my position now to stop this getting…

Corin Dann So, what does success look like?

David Parker Success, in the short term, looks like stopping the degradation getting worse everywhere; within five years, having measureable improvements; and then, over the succeeding generation, getting back to where we used to be.

Corin Dann So an admirable goal, but the question is — how will you do it? Now, you have a— you’ve talked about beefing up the current guidelines, the national policy statement on water. How far will you go? And I guess the key question is here — will you cap the number of cows that can be in a certain paddock, depending on nutrient levels? In other words, potentially force farmers to destock?

David Parker Well, cow numbers have already peaked and are going down, but yes, in some areas, the number of cows per hectare is higher than the environment can sustain. That won’t be done through a raw cap on cow numbers; it will be done on nutrient limits, the amount of nutrient that can be lost from a farm to a waterway, because it’s not just a dairy cow issue.

Corin Dann But it will have the same effect, though, won’t it?

David Parker In some areas, it will. I mean, that’s one of the really difficult issues that we’ve got work being done on at the moment by both my own ministry, but the Land and Water Forum and various NGOs. How do you allocate the right to discharge nutrient where you’ve got more than the environment can sustain between those who are currently doing it and those who want to do it with undeveloped land?

And Parker said that farmers would not be compensated:

Corin Dann …you’re going to have to force some farmers in some areas, depending on those conditions, to destock. Now, does that open up you do legal action? Do they get compensation?

David Parker No, you don’t compensate people for stopping pollution. Just because you could pollute last year doesn’t mean to say you should be allowed to do it or paid to stop doing it.

This may help the environment, but what about regional economies?

Corin Dann Have you done the work that shows what the economic impact for some, particularly dairying regions, would be?

David Parker We haven’t done an analysis of what the economic effects would be. But it’s very, very difficult to model, because second-best from the farmer perspective may still be very close to the same outcome profit-wise.

I wonder if they have done an analysis of what the environmental effects would be. Maybe that’s very difficult to model too, so they just do what they think might work and too bad for the farmers affected.

Corin Dann But how are you going to make farmers change if they don’t want to?

David Parker Well, the economics will drive that change where there is a high-value land use. Where economics don’t, regulation will.

There’s only three ways to change behaviour — education, regulation and price.

We fought an election on this issue. We’ve got a representative democracy. We’ve won the political battle. Now it’s about implementation. Most of the farming sector agree with that. There is the occasional outlier. One of the Federated Farmers heads from the Wairarapa during the last election denied that dairy farming caused pollution of rivers. So there are some people who are in denial. Now, those people will have to be regulated to do the right thing, because they may not be willing to do it voluntarily. That’s the purpose of environmental regulation.

I think there is fairly universal agreement that the environment needs to be treated and protected better.

We’ve got a representative democracy. But that doesn’t necessarily mean Parker has won the political battle yet.

Labour may not care about forcing some farmers out of business, and the Greens have  wanted lower cow numbers, but National and probably NZ First could be quite reluctant to impact too severely on farming in the regions.

This wasn’t covered by the Labour-NZ First coalition agreement. The only related mentions:

Environment

  • If the Climate Commission determines that agriculture is to be included in the ETS,
    then upon entry, the free allocation to agriculture will be 95% but with all revenues from
    this source recycled back into agriculture in order to encourage agricultural innovation,
    mitigation and additional planting of forestry.
  • No resource rentals for water in this term of Parliament.
  • Higher water quality standards for urban and rural using measurements which take into
    account seasonal differences.

So no agreement on destocking regulations. Of course they have kept there more detailed agreement secret.

If Greens reduce cow numbers by 30%…

…farmers have a solution.

Greens have often said they want to reduce cow numbers by up to 30%.

Farmers rallied in Morrinsville on Tuesday, concerned about what may happen if Greens and Labour get into government and force a reduction in cow numbers.

But they threatened a response – if they have to reduce cow numbers they will increase the size of cows.

mcgiven-small-under-cow-768x465

A spokesperson for Federated Farmers unveils a genetically modified cow that will enable dairy farmers to reduce cow numbers significantly.

 

Minister: ‘limit to further dairy intensification’

Nathan Guy, Minister for Primary Industries has said there is a limit to further dairy intensification.

That limit may have already been reached as the environment, especially waterways, has not coped with the surge in cow numbers.

NZ Herald: NZ dairy expansion will hit limits as environmental impact grows, must chase value, Guy says

Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy says there is a limit to further dairy intensification in New Zealand and growing exports in the future will depend more on increasing the value of products rather than the volume.

The number of dairy cattle in New Zealand has surged as farmers were lured by higher prices for dairy products while demand for sheep meat and wool waned.

That price lure has been wound back with the slump in dairy prices since 2013 (currently running at about two thirds of what they were at their peak).

The latest agricultural statistics for 2016 show New Zealand had 6.5 million dairy cattle, up from just 2.9 million four decades ago.

Dairy products are the country’s largest commodity export worth $11.3 billion in the year through February, and the government aims to double the value of primary sector exports to $64 billion by 2025 from $32 billion in 2012.

In the past two months, New Zealand’s worsening environmental record has come under the microscope of the OECD, Vivid Economics and the Prime Minister’s chief science adviser Peter Gluckman, adding weight to previous reports by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Jan Wright.

Today, New Zealand published its first Fresh Water report under the Environmental Reporting Act which showed urban areas have the biggest problem with polluted freshwater, but rural areas are showing a faster-declining trend in the quality of fresh water in lakes, rivers and streams.

While efforts have been made to reduce dairy related pollution more has to be done, and it makes sense economically and environmentally to wind back cow numbers and aim to add more value to milk products, and aim for optimal herd numbers rather than just adding more and more.