Jim van der Poel, chair of DairyNZ.

Dairyfarmers say they are fed up with Government regulations.

They say the overload of regulation is causing mental issues among farmers.

And they are calling for the Government to acknowledge the role they are playing to curb Greenhouse Gas emissions.

Dairy NZ’s annual “View from the Cowshed” to be published today puts the case against the current raft of regulations affecting farming.

It echoes some of the points being made by the organisers of the second Groundswell protest planned for November 21.

Groundswell’s website asks farmers whether they are fed up with having unworkable regulations forced on them.

DairyNZ’s report is much more sober and is based on a survey of dairy farmers.

The Government is more likely to listen since DairyNZ has been careful to try and work with it on initiatives like the He Waka Eke Noa climate change proposals, whereas Groundswell is now starting to get close to the anti-vax anti-three waters movements.

The survey shows that only 17 per cent of dairy farmers are more positive than they were a year ago; 55 per cent are less positive. And a staggering 55 per cent said someone on their farm had experienced a mental health issue within the last 12 months.

57 per cent blamed changing government regulations for the mental health issues; 37 per cent said the changing regulations kept them awake at night.

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DairyNZ chair Jim van der Poel, commenting on the survey, said that farmers had more than their fair share of change over the past few years.

“There is no denying that our agricultural sector has been experiencing a period of significant regulatory reform that has impacted almost every aspect of the way we farm, and we are now starting to see the cumulative effect this is having on our rural communities,” he said.

“Dairy farmers know that we need to continue to make improvements to the way we farm to meet rapidly changing community and consumer expectations.

“We acknowledge that regulation has a role to play in supporting some of those changes.

“But the sheer pace, scale and breadth of changes that are being asked of us over such a short time period is starting to feel relentless.”

Too many regulations, many of which were disconnected from each other, changing over too short a time period, were having a huge impact on farmer wellbeing, he said.

“We have reached a point of regulatory overload, and it’s causing serious fatigue and frustration in our rural communities – and the pressure continues to build.

“The issue isn’t so much the regulation itself, although there have been elements that simply aren’t pragmatic or practical behind the farm gate.

“But more than all of the regulation has arrived at one time.

“This can feel overwhelming for many farmers, particularly when they have other things on their plate like challenging weather, significant labour shortages, and the uncertainties of Covid.”

Yet despite this, 70 per cent of farmers already have a farm environmental plan.

These are key elements in a proposal from a number of agriculture groups, including DairyNZ, to have farmers measure and price their methane emissions.

Only 0.5 per cent said they didn’t want one.

But farmers have yet to agree to the He Waka Eke Noa proposals. A consultation process is planned for February, and there are suggestions that the proposal might meet some opposition.

Perhaps that explains stepped up lobbying yesterday from both DairyNZ and Federated Farmers putting the case for Climate Change Minister James Shaw to split New Zealand’s emissions targets for Carbon Dioxide and Methane.

Although we are disappointed Government didn’t announce a split gas target for our new Nationally Determined Contribution* [NDC], we hope Government will still strongly advocate for split gas and advanced metrics like Global Warming Potential GWP at COP26,” said DairyNZ chief executive, Dr Tim Mackle. 

“We want to see New Zealand show real leadership on the world stage by strongly advocating for the scientifically-robust approach we have taken to methane.”  

A split gas approach would highlight the difference between short and long-lived gases and their individual impact on warming. 

 “We’d like to see the COP26 settings include an international agreement on split gas because although methane does have an impact on short-term warming – and certainly shouldn’t increase – keeping global warming under 1.5C is dependent on reducing long-lived gases,” says Dr Mackle.  

“Reducing CO2 determines the overall level of warming and the speed.”

Mackle’s argument might have scientific logic, and his call for “all sectors” including transport, energy, industry, households, towns and cities to pull their weight on climate change will appeal to farmers, but he is up against a growing international consensus that cuts to methane may offer an easy way out of the climate change crisis.

In its first 20 years after release, methane from cows belching is around 80 times more powerful than Carbon Dioxide at trapping heat in Earth’s atmosphere, but it also breaks down much more quickly than CO2, with an average lifetime of around a decade, compared with centuries for CO2.

This means that curbing methane emissions could provide short-term relief while governments and businesses negotiate the more difficult transition from fossil fuels to clean energy.

The issue is critical for dairy farming, and van der Poel says the agreement by the Government for dairy to implement the Waka Eke Noa proposals was a “major win”.

“I cannot emphasise enough how significant this is for the future of farming in New Zealand,” he said.

“We’ll be talking with farmers about this in the next few months to ensure their voices are incorporated before we engage again with Government.”

Thirty-two per cent of dairy farmers told the “View from the Cowshed” survey that their biggest concern was the public not appreciating how low carbon they already were.