New Zealand farmers furious over ‘fart tax’

AFP

NOS News

  • Mike Wijers

    correspondent Australia

  • Mike Wijers

    correspondent Australia

In New Zealand, the government wants farmers to pay a tax for their livestock’s emissions. The tax must contribute to the goal of being climate neutral in 2050 and reducing methane emissions by 10 percent in 2030.

The sector is responsible for more than half of New Zealand’s emissions. This is primarily about the harmful greenhouse gas methane, which is released by farting, belching and excrement from cattle.

The agricultural sector is one of the last sectors in New Zealand to pay for emissions. The country has had an emissions trading system since 2008, but farmers have not had to participate until now.

Farmers furious

The farmers are outraged by the government’s proposal. “This plan is a punch in the stomach for farmers,” says Stu Muir (52). He runs a dairy farm in the hills of Aka Aka in the Waikato region of New Zealand’s North Island.

“For years we have tried to do the right thing for our country and the climate, but in a way that also benefits our society. This is now being pushed aside,” he says.

Muir is a fifth generation farmer in this area. His ancestors came to New Zealand from Scotland in the early nineteenth century. Muir grew up on the farm, as did his four children now. “My children have been helping in the fields since they were little. They know exactly where their food comes from. It’s a natural life,” he says.

Largest dairy exporter

He is not the only one, there are more than 50,000 farms throughout New Zealand. Out of a population of 5 million people, there are more than 10 million cows and 26 million sheep. The sector accounts for more than half of exports, with New Zealand being the largest dairy exporter in the world.

But Muir worries he may be the last professional farmer in the family. “This plan is going to bankrupt farmers,” he says. Many farmers are hesitant about this. Lobby group Groundswell NZ says around 20 per cent of farms will go bankrupt.

Since the government announced the plans, there has been a lot of opposition. A petition with more than 100,000 signatures was presented to the minister by tractor. Protesters took to the streets in tractors.

The debate has become increasingly polarised, while farmers, interest groups and the New Zealand government used to work together. In the He Waka Eke Noa partnership, the parties have been talking since 2019 about how agricultural emissions can be reduced. Eventually a proposal was made and the farmers agreed to a tax on their emissions.

treasure

The big difference to the current plan that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s government has now put forward is that farmers wanted to influence the level of that tax. But instead, the government wants to appoint an independent party that determines the size of the tax each year.

The emissions can be offset by planting trees. But there are many disadvantages to this, says climate scientist David Hall from Auckland University of Technology. “There is a lot of attention to compensation options in this plan, and not enough to biodiversity.”

Pine trees are not native to New Zealand. But because they grow quickly, they are planted a lot to offset emissions. It can be at the expense of biodiversity, says Hall. “It becomes more lucrative to use agricultural land to plant pine forests. But it creates a monoculture that gives our native animals and plants less space.”

While biodiversity is important for tackling climate change. “We need a combined approach so that measures to combat climate change do not have a negative impact on biodiversity,” says Hall.

‘No recognition’

This is also what dairy farmer Muir is worried about. He has invested heavily in letting parts of his land go wild to increase biodiversity. “I spent time and money cleaning up the local river, and since then all the native fish and birds have returned. But in this plan, I don’t get any credit for that.”

Hall also sees this as a mistake in this government scheme. Although he emphasizes that the tax is necessary to reduce emissions, he argues for more understanding for farmers. “This is very drastic for people, we have to take that into account and all contribute to reducing emissions,” he says.

There is generally great support in the Norwegian Parliament for the government’s proposal. The final plan will be presented at the beginning of next year. The tax will come into force from 2025.

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