SOS roadshow comes to Hamilton

By Bryan Walker 19/07/2011

I attended the Hamilton stop of the Saunders/Oram/Salinger roadshow yesterday. It was a very worthwhile occasion.  Around seventy present and the speakers introduced by the Chair of the Regional Council, himself a farmer.  Caroline Saunders was unfortunately unable to be present, but Rod Oram included her material in his talk. I won’t try to cover what he and Jim Salinger had to say in any detail, as I simply sat back and enjoyed the expertise they displayed without any thought of reporting. But Gareth wondered about a short review, so in broadest outline from an untrustworthy ageing memory…

Jim Salinger presented the ever-accumulating picture of climate change globally and regionally.  Familiar enough much of it, but it’s always interesting to hear someone in full possession of the relevant material organising it to such telling effect. Not with heavy emphasis but simply laying out the unmistakeable direction of the evidence. He focused finally on what the Waikato may expect to see in terms of increased average temperature and among the impacts possible increases in early season drought frequency.  Sea level rise, impacting on the region’s coastal areas, is likely to be considerably more than the conservative IPCC forecast. He more than once remarked that scientists tend to be conservative.

Rod Oram had interesting material on the food miles issue and the carbon footprint of New Zealand farming. We have a good case to make that our distance from our markets does not by any means put us out of carbon contention compared with the farms of Europe, contrary to the advertising claims of some of our competitors.  It’s actually in the trucking from depot to store and in the customers driving to the supermarkets that much the heaviest weight of the carbon print falls.

However Oram sees room for much improvement. For example, our engagement in international research on livestock emissions is important in establishing our credentials in the battle to lower emissions. The closing of the nutrient loop in farming so that nutrients aren’t wasted and don’t end up where all they achieve is environmental damage is something that the agricultural world needs to work hard at.  There’s strong economic gain to be had from our engagement with these and other climate change-related matters. Farmers will benefit from engaging positively with the range of climate change issues, as he hopes Federated Farmers will yet come to recognise. He instanced the attention Zespri has given to successfully driving down the carbon footprint of the crop-to-market trail as an appropriate way ahead. I didn’t know that some of the ships carrying kiwifruit are using sail assistance, for example. Fonterra also is seeking to play a constructive role.

The visitors came across as positive and constructive. Yes, climate change is desperately serious and must be addressed, but it can be addressed to the benefit of society. Opportunity beckons at the same time as warnings are heeded. New Zealand agriculture can prosper greatly by, dare one say it, taking a lead. It’s good to see this team taking their message to all corners of the country. Their time is donated, but a collection box was a reminder that attendant expenses are not paid by any public body. We haven’t yet woken up as a society to that extent. But maybe that time is not as far off as we sometimes fear. I thought of Paul Gilding’s ’great awakening’, the absolutely remarkable turnaround he sees societies as capable of.

The friend who accompanied me to the meeting is a retired scientist whose research was farming related. He declared himself as ’impressed and comforted’.  That goes for me too.