Federated Farmers: sticking their heads in the soil?

Dryland farmingFederated Farmers says farmers don’t need to worry about the causes of climate change, they only need to cope with the impacts. Feds President William Rolleston says they have “no position” on whether mankind is influencing global warming, and say that looking at the causes is not that helpful. No position?

“We [farmers] need to basically adjust to the realities that are being dealt to us, and why it may or may not be happening isn’t really as important, as actually being prepared for what we actually do get dealt,” their “climate change spokesman” Anders Crofoot told Radio New Zealand today.

You can’t have “no position” on the climate science — it’s like telling your bank manager you have “no position” on your finances, despite the numbers being there for all to see. I’m calling it climate denial. I’ll come back to that later, but let’s look at WHY they’re saying that.  If you were to take a position, that is, agree that climate change is real and caused by humans, you’d have to act. You’d think.

So I guess it’s blindingly obvious why Federated Farmers want to avoid talking about the causes of climate change, because farming, at 48 percent, is the largest contributor to our burgeoning greenhouse gas emissions, and the present government has exempted them from the emissions trading scheme, the one they’re consulting on at the moment.

But let’s look at impact of climate change on farmers — what they might be “dealt” as a result of the climate change they’re contributing to but not willing to do anything about, and what they have to look forward to.

One climate impact we can look forward to in New Zealand is increased drought. We’re starting to experience droughts here already, like never before. One obvious problem with increased drought is lack of water. And the expansion of industrial dairy farming — often chopping down forests that used to act as carbon sinks — is driving a massive investment into irrigation and increased water use.

In February this year, during the worst drought experienced by the South Island farming community, maybe ever, Fed Farmers’ Environment and Water spokesman Ian Mackenzie was on the radio slamming the Government’s Crown Irrigation Fund for providing loans for famers, rather than actual investment for irrigation schemes.  The pressure is going on, with both Federated Farmers and Irrigation NZ both pushing hard for Government — and therefore the taxpayer — to front the costs.

What is climate change costing us?

This year’s drought has shaved 0.5% off GDP growth, according to ANZ. Farmers freaked out in February as the unprecedented Canterbury drought forced the shutting of the Opuha Dam for irrigation.  

Meat prices dropped as farmers, unable to feed their animals, had to cull them.

Even Bathurst Resources, which, in the face of plummeting coal prices, is having to rely on supplying coal domestically, reported a drop in income in the first quarter of this year because its main customer, Fonterra, had less milk to dry and therefore used less coal.

The 2013 drought in the North Island was the “worst in history” according to scientists and cost the country around $1.3 billion.  This drought has now been confirmed by scientists to have been made worse by climate change.

The 2007-08 drought had a $2.8 billion economic impact, in on-farm and off-farm costs.

And that’s just the droughts

Let’s turn now to the damages from floods and storms — the type of extreme weather events that are expected to come from climate change. By September 2014, weather-related Insurance had cost $135.4 million. The Insurance Council of NZ predicts that this type of event will cost, on average, $1.6 billion a year, as climate impacts kick in.

Of course not all of this cost will be laid only at a farmer’s door, but if you look at the Insurance Council’s list of big disasters the insurance industry has had to pay out for in recent years, it’s clear that farmers have certainly suffered their fair share of impacts.

Back to the science

Given that 97 percent of climate scientists agree that climate change is happening, and that we’re causing it,  and we’ve now had no less than five IPCC reports, the question has to be asked: where has Federated Farmers been?

Its leader-with-no-position, William Rolleston, is supposedly a smart man. According to this profile, “his appetite for all things science is fuelled by reading on the origins and workings of the universe, biology and natural history.” He sits on the Ministry of Science, Business and Innovation’s Science Board.

So you’d think he’d maybe have read the IPCC summaries, or consulted some of his colleagues on that board about the science of climate change, its causes and its projected impacts, and realised that you can’t have “no position” on climate science. If you are a scientist, you don’t get to pick and choose which bits of evidence you believe in. You live with the facts.

For a group that purports to be acting on behalf of farmers, one would think that in 2015 Federated Farmers would be taking this issue, and its causes, extremely seriously.

The droughts that farmers are feeling today, at 0.8ºC of warming, are already having a serious economic effect on their industry and, given that current projections are that we’re heading to 4ºC of warming, you’d think they’d be going all out to do what they can to stop it. But denying its very existence? Seriously?

I just hope that the rest of the country’s farmers, ie the 85 percent who are not represented by Federated Farmers, aren’t quite that stupid.

But if Federated Farmers refuse to take any responsibility for — or do anything about the causes of climate change — and instead continue upping production without paying any attention to emissions, the question has to be asked: why should the taxpayer, and the Government, continue to give them handouts for drought relief or storm relief, or give them a free ride on the costs of their emissions to the rest of the economy? Why should we stump up for massive irrigation schemes to pay for even more irrigation so they can ramp up production further?

16 thoughts on “Federated Farmers: sticking their heads in the soil?”

  1. All the big polluters have the same deniers excuses and message.They also have big money to influence government policy but it will not help them from economic failure. I am appalled that they have adopted a classic denial approach because they are worried about taxes on methane emissions and pollution. They have lost all my respect.

  2. What amazes me, and what I didn’t cover, is the lack of Treasury advice or analysis, nor NZIER, nor anyone else, to Government on the projected costs of climate impacts in NZ. They are looking at only one side of the cost argument. SO one dimensional.

    And with the Treasury advice that they DO get, nowhere does it project how costs of action would decrease with emissions. There’s just this assumption that emissions will keep rising.

  3. The “no position” “we just have to deal with the consequences” is ONLY valid if the cause is external, changes to the sun, cosmic rays, whatever, which is blindingly obviously NOT!!

    They’re a bunch of greedy bastards with no horizon beyond this year’s profit margin. “Sod the grandchildren, what have they ever done for me?”

  4. “Feds President William Rolleston says …that looking at the causes is not that helpful.”

    Good grief, what sort of stupid statement is that? I suppose looking at the causes of cancer is unhelpful as well. Lets just ‘adapt’.

  5. And yet – over the ditch……
    There can be no denial in many parts of Australia. For instance around Perth inflows into the catchment areas has declined severely since 1970:

    Prior to the 1970s, the annual average was about 350 gigalitres (GL) but since then has declined by more than half with only 12 GL recorded in 2010 during an extremely dry year.


  6. Speaking for the Hauraki Plains / Waikato an area on intense Dairying. Over the past decade drought conditions occur almost annually now. What was once sustainable now relies on imported food stocks – palm kernel by the ship load. With the price of milk powder plummeting those who have borrowed heavily to support what was essentially an unsustainable farming practice are now resorting to desperate measures.

    Since 2007-8, 169 farmers have committed suicide, compared with 112 who have died from farming-related incidents.


  7. Given that agriculture contributes a smidge under 50% of NZ’s GHGs http://goo.gl/XB86pS I guess it’s not surprising that the Feds aren’t interested in the causes of climate change. However, unlike coal and oil, the effects of climate change will be dire for farmers.

      1. The problem with flip flopping from drought to heavy rainfall is that they don’t just cancel one another out. Yes a region might get the same – or even more rain – over a fixed period of time – but drought lowers the water table, and it takes more rain over a sustained period to build it up. That is why Hauraki Plains, for instance, suffers more periods of drought that previously. The amount of water stored in the soil has been depleted and when a dry spell comes along:
        a. the temperature is warmer so more evaporation, occurs and
        b. there wasn’t as much in the soil to start with ,
        c. increasing winds and wind speeds also are having a significant effect on drying out the soil as well.
        so you enter a drought quicker than before.
        Furthermore heavy rains tend to run off faster than soft steady rain so more is lost even before it enters the soil. Only the top few cm actually benefit.
        Probably people here know this already –
        Commenting for the passer by.

    1. Hi Rob – I gather it was bloody scary as well.
      It brought to the notice of the Thames Coromandel DC the real implications of Climate Change. The cost of clean-up I gather used up that budget for the year.
      Yet still we have those who claim AGW is a hoax.

  8. Great post Cindy. I couldn’t agree more.
    Last night I left a (IMO) pertinent and erudite comment about agriculture and the ETS under Gareth’s post on the 2030 consultation! It would have just as well gone under your post.
    William Rolleston’s attitude of “production at all costs” is such a one-fingered salute to the rest of NZ.
    Talk about a good example of framing the debate so it’s “Head we win, tails everyone else loses”!

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