New Zealand farmers angry about ‘fart tax’
In New Zealand, the government wants farmers to pay a tax on the emissions of their livestock. The tax should contribute to achieving the goal of climate neutrality by 2050 and reducing methane emissions by 10 percent by 2030.
The sector is responsible for more than half of New Zealand’s emissions. This mainly concerns the harmful greenhouse gas methane, which is emitted by farts, belching and livestock excrement.
The agricultural sector is one of the last sectors in New Zealand to pay for emissions. The country has had an emissions trading system in place since 2008, but farmers haven’t had to get involved until now.
The farmers are angry
Farmers are angry at the government’s proposal. “This plan punches farmers in distress,” says Stu Muir, 52. He runs a dairy farm in the Aka Aka Hills in the Waikato region of New Zealand’s North Island.
“We’ve been trying for years to do the right thing for our country and the climate, but in a way that also benefits our community. And now that’s being set 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, and so do his now four children. “My children have been helping in the fields since they were young,” he says. “They know exactly where their food comes from. It’s a normal life.”
largest exporter of dairy products
It’s not the only one, there are over 50,000 farms across New Zealand. Of a population of 5 million, there are more than 10 million cows and 26 million sheep. This sector accounts for more than half of exports, with New Zealand being the world’s largest exporter of dairy products.
But Muir fears he may be the last professional farmer in his family. “This plan will bankrupt farmers,” he says. Many farmers are reluctant to do so. Groundswell NZ lobby group says about 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 became increasingly polarized as farmers, interest groups and the New Zealand government used to work together. In the He Waka Eke Noa Partnership, parties have been talking since 2019 about how they can reduce the farming community’s emissions. Eventually a proposal was made and the farmers agreed to tax their emissions.
The big difference with 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 amount of tax each year.
Emissions can be offset by planting trees. There are many hurdles to this, says climate scientist David Hall of Auckland University of Technology. “There is too much attention given to compensation options in this plan, and not enough to biodiversity.”
Pine trees are not naturally native to New Zealand. But because it’s growing so quickly, it’s farming a lot to offset emissions. That could come at the expense of biodiversity, says Hall. “It becomes more profitable to use farmland to grow pine forests. But this creates monoculture that gives our native animals and plants less space.”
While biodiversity is important in addressing climate change. “We need a common approach so that measures to combat climate change do not have a negative impact on biodiversity,” says Hall.
This is also a concern for dairy farmer Muir. He has invested heavily in allowing parts of his land to spread out to enhance biodiversity. “I put in the time and money to clean up the local river, and since then all the local fish and birds have returned. But in this plan I get no credit at all.”
Hall also finds this to be wrong with this government proposal. Although he maintains that the tax is necessary to reduce emissions, he argues for more understanding of farmers. “This is very dangerous for people,” he says, “we have to take this into account and all contribute to reducing emissions.”
In general, there is strong support in parliament for the government’s proposal. The final plan will be presented early next year. The tax is effective from 2025.
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