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Lower emissions – urgent call for action

Tom O'Leary Dec 12
Lower emissions – urgent call for action
Attending the Dairy Environment Leaders Forum in Wellington was a defi nitive moment for Winton farmer Dean Alexander. He admits he was largely uneducated about climate change and the implications and impact it could have

Dean Alexander has spent most of his working life farming. Now, with three children who are at the age of deciding what career paths they would like to take, Dean found himself questioning whether he would encourage the same life for them.

Dean and his wife Suzanne own two dairy farms just out of Winton. Like a lot of farmers, Dean says, he found himself over the last few years becoming despondent and struggled to see what the future of farming would be.

“I was probably at a stage where it was eating away at me a bit. I started having thoughts about what is the future of it all and it was really getting to me thinking that I wouldn’t want my kids to be doing it. It was at that point that I thought, ‘well, if I want there to be a future, I better do something about it’.”

Dean began taking steps to better his own operations – improving water quality, reviewing his farm systems to reduce their environmental footprint, and attending local discussion groups and meetings to gain knowledge.

The catalyst, he says, was attending the three-day Dairy Environment Leaders Forum in Wellington where he was handpicked by DairyNZ to lead by example and reduce cow greenhouse gas emissions on his farms along with 14 other farmers throughout New Zealand.

He admits before taking on the opportunity he was largely uneducated about climate change and wasn’t aware of the implications or the impact he could have. “It was a good way to enter it I believe. I had a completely open mind.”

His role to date has involved meeting with ministers, collaborating with the Interim Climate Change Committee (ICCC), government department employees, industry and other people who are playing a key role in defining what many agricultural climate change policies will look like. It’s been an eye-opening process and has re-ignited the spring in Dean’s step by helping him to see a way forward.

He’s understanding that a lot of farmers are feel-ing attacked and therefore have their guard up but change is inevitable and right now farmers have the opportunity to facilitate that change. The acceptance by the government recently of the ag industry agreement, He Waka Eke Noa, is a major win Dean says.

This agreement is a farm-level approach allowing farmers themselves to come up with an agricultural strategy of how they will move into the future of lower emitting agriculture instead of the government’s proposed option of entering agriculture into the emissions trading scheme (ETS). Dean can not stress enough that farmers need to grab hold of this opportunity before it’s too late.

“My fear is that farmers won’t understand the opportunity that we have been given and there isn’t a lot of time – the Government have left themselves a couple of windows. By 2022 they will review the decision and by 2025 we have to have implemented something and if we haven’t they will pull the rug out from under us and potentially throw us into the ETS, which I don’t think we want to be in.”

In the past he says it’s taken scrutiny from the media and threats of further compliance costs to farmers’ businesses to get many farmers engaged and he doesn’t want that to be the case this time.“We need to front up as an industry and come up with solutions and start putting things into action.”

Credit where credit is due, farming has come an extremely long way in the last 10 years despite the battles faced and that, to a large extent, goes unnoticed, says Dean, and that frustrates him a lot.

“We can often feel like we haven’t achieved much with all the bad press.”That being said, there is still a long way to go and many battles ahead.

“The hard part is about to begin, however. We have been given an opportunity and we must make the most of it … If every farmer can make small incremental changes then we will be moving in the right direction.”

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