'Farmers should be angry': Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick treads into Groundswell dissension

In the wake of Groundwell's 'Mother of all Protests' against "unworkable" rural regulations, Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick agrees that farmers "should be angry" - but not at the Government. 

In a series of tweets, the Auckland Central MP said farmers should be angry at their leaders and representatives who have "for years kicked the can down the road" on climate resilience and "fighting regulation" instead of planning. 

Her comments came after demonstrations across the country on Sunday saw protesters push back on Three Waters reforms, the incoming tax on gas-guzzling imported cars, freshwater regulations, and climate change policy. 

The Zero Carbon Act sets a target of zero carbon emissions by 2050, and reducing methane emissions - mostly emitted by livestock - by between 24-47 percent by 2050. It's a big challenge for agriculture, since nearly half of New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions come from the sector. 

The Climate Change Commission warned the Government in June that its current policies were not good enough to meet its targets and that methane would need to be reduced by 49-60 percent below 2017 levels.

But there's been pushback from some in the industry. Federated Farmers argues that Kiwi farmers are already on the right track, with KPMG's Net Zero Readiness Index 2021 ranking New Zealand at the top for agriculture, land use and forestry.

"Unlike so many other studies and commentaries, KPMG recognises that feeding the world has to be balanced with emissions reductions," says Federated Farmers president Andrew Hoggard.

Swarbrick said she sat through "thousands" of public submissions on the Zero Carbon Act and other climate legislation, and asked dozens of farmers and their representatives about their vision for agriculture. 

"None had an answer on the spot. Hadn't thought about it; [they] were focused on next week, next month, next year. Some were angry, afraid and upset and spoke of the struggle to survive. Some were in a whole lot of debt, perversely locking them into unsustainable practice," she wrote. 

"I asked others whether climate change had impacted their work, seasonal predictability, wastage, etc. Most said yes. They knew things were changing around them.

"I think that's why it's just so gutting not to see mainstream [agriculture] leadership on the challenges ahead, reimagining the future and doing the work to get there. Townies, [especially] townie politicians, can't offer authentic leadership in spaces that aren't theirs.

"But the politicians, [especially] townie politicians, who pretend that everything will be fine if we don't change things when farmers themselves are seeing their environments change around them, are grifters."

The KGMP report notes that methane emissions from livestock and landfill will "become a significant barrier to the country hitting a true net zero target unless it is addressed". 

But it also acknowledges "plans to reduce methane through already-available low-emission feeds and in future breeding programs, methane vaccines that could utilise animal immune systems and the addition of seaweed to animal food". 

It also mentions He Waka Eke Noa, the Government's plan to work with the sector to start taxing agriculture emissions from 2025, but farmers will get a 95 percent discount.

"Solutions are likely a combination of improving technology, credible carbon offsetting measures, and allowing some cattle land to be reforested," says Eurasia Group's director of energy, climate and resources, Henning Gloystein. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the Government has tried to strike a balance with the agriculture sector.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the Government has tried to strike a balance with the agriculture sector. Photo credit: Getty Images

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told The AM Show the Government needs to push the sector to be sustainable so that New Zealand products can fetch good prices.

"When you say I need to govern for all of New Zealand, I stand by that. Governing for all New Zealand means making sure that we can stand proudly on the world stage and continue to command a strong price for our exports because we are doing our bit on environmental issues," she said. 

"We can't have it both ways. We cannot expect to continue to trade with the world and have them want to pay a high price for our valuable products unless we are also doing the work on these issues. 

"Our UK free trade agreement, which is of enormous value to our primary sector, was proof to me that we have to do our bit, otherwise we will not be able to continue to pursue trade agreements of that nature."

She said the Government has tried to strike a balance on issues such as intensive winter grazing and areas of stock exclusion. 

"There's a number of areas within the freshwater work that we've been doing that actually has taken in the practical implications for rolling the programme out. But we've got to come back to first principles. Why are we doing this in the first place? Because too many of our rivers and waterways were degrading and not swimmable.

"It's going to take us a generation to get back to that standard, but we have to start now."