by Jeanette Fitzsimons

Last November Fonterra reported that they will “only use coal as a last resort, with a target of no new coal boilers installed from 2030”. So what the second largest coal user in NZ is saying is they will carry on building new coal boilers for another 12 years!!

That weak attempt at pulling the wool over our eyes doesn’t go nearly far enough in acknowledging the enormous impact intensified dairying has on the climate. Each of those new boilers will have a design life of 40 years. Fonterra plans to be still burning coal in 2060.

The simple fact is, Fonterra doesn’t want to face facts.  There are too many cows right now. Too much poo in rivers. Too much coal being burned. Too much methane, too much nitrous oxide. The dairy industry is important to NZ, but it has far exceeded its environmental limits.

Environmental damage is not the only ill-effect of the cancerous lust for growth.  The contagious disease Mycoplasma bovis has infected herds suffering from overcrowding and stress.  And financially, the CEO and other Fonterra top managers are doing very well, but ordinary farmers face an increasingly uncertain future.  In the last 30 odd years, the number of herds or farmers have decreased by 28 per cent and the size of each herd has increased 200 per cent.  “It’s the same trend we see in so much of the world, wealth is becoming more concentrated“,  says Glen Herud, founder of Happy Cow Milk, an alternative dairy model.

Two thirds of New Zealand’s agricultural emissions come from methane, 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide, but shorter lived. Steve Cranston wrote in the New Zealand Farmer: “Over 35 per cent of New Zealand’s gross emissions is methane that is belched from cows and sheep – this methane only survives around 12 years in the atmosphere on average.

This is dangerously false information, as confirmed by climate scientist James Renwick when we checked with him. He advised that while it isn’t a simple calculation, the average lifetime is  more like 30 years and then some of it decays into carbon dioxide with a lifetime of thousands of years.

The remaining third of agricultural emissions are from nitrous oxide, 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide and also extremely long lived. The single largest source is animal excreta deposited during grazing, compounded by poorly managed and drained wet soils.  In most countries nitrous oxide emissions may contribute less than 10% of the CO2  equivalent GHG emissions.  But here this gas contributes 17% of our total GHG emissions because of the dominance of the agricultural sector.

For a responsible and forward-looking farmer perspective, see the recent article by Steve Carden, CEO of NZ’s largest pastoral farm, LandCorp. Let’s hope other farmers read it too.

It is time agriculture joined the carbon pricing system, phasing in to full responsibility over a few years, and none of this nonsense of getting 95% of their emissions for free which is now planned.

Fonterra could help its image and its public acceptability – not to mention the climate – by starting to phase out fossil fuels in its milk drying plants.