GrassFed in the city

Modern Farm Girls talking Food, Family, and Farming in New Zealand

When I was growing up, Greenpeace were my hero. The name Rainbow Warrior puffed out my chest with pride – they stood up to those big nasty nuclear nations and paid an awful price. It was David vs Goliath. Greenpeace stood up for the planet, and by proxy, a young, enchanted me.

But somewhere along the line Greenpeace has changed. The heavy sales tactics criticised in the media a couple of weeks ago were yet another symptom that this organisation is personal agenda driven, fundraising driven, and certainly an organisation that won’t let all the facts get in the way of more easily digested hashtags.

I always feel reluctant to weigh into the #toomanycows debate. I’m not a dairy farmer, I’m not a fresh water, soil, bio-diversity or carbon scientist. But I do care about fairness and balance of perspective. I am the one that will gently but firmly explain to someone why its not weird at all for a man to marry another man, and why even though girls can do everything, they still don’t have equality on so many levels. So this is why I feel aggrieved on behalf of dairy farmers that Greenpeace seems to care far more about building their financial support base than about outcomes. And that they care more that every ‘win’ for the environment must be accredited to Greenpeace’s hard work, as opposed to what the win actually means for the environment. It’s bullshit.

My gut feel on dairy farming? I think we are probably milking cows in places and on soils where we shouldn’t. I think we have converted sheep and beef farms to dairy that have come at too higher an environmental cost. But the dairy sector and government (local and central) realise this too. The fix to this though is complex and will take time, and involves so many more factors than Greenpeace seems to have the ability to grasp, or even acknowledge that the dairy sector and government is really well onto it.

‘Peak Cow’ has been and gone. If we see many more dairy farms in New Zealand, it will be in the low double digits, single digits even. Greenpeace knows this, yet is still campaigning in a way that once the media picks up on the dairy trends, they’ll really want people to think it was all down to their anti-dairy campaigning. Yay for you Greenpeace, you guys take all the credit….

What got me first with Greenpeace was posts slating farming about an algal bloom at lake Taupo, only a matter of months after they had stood up at the Beef and Lamb New Zealand conference and saluted farmers in the Lake Taupo water catchment for their early leadership (which dates back decades) on water quality and protecting our biggest lake. And then this week it was Greenpeaces’ response to the Government’s Budget – not focussing on the positive environmental initiatives coming out of it, for DOC, for freshwater, for bio-diversity. But focussed on the fact that the Government had not brought agriculture into the emissions trading scheme. “Still subsidising agriculture to the tune of $800 million” the headline cried. What’s the shorthand for what I felt – FFS.

Let’s start with the basics. Any country’s government is one big subsidy anyway. We subsidise our sick, our elderly, our children, our endangered birds, our poor, our book-readers, our artists, our drivers – everyone in effect, through our taxation system. Through a set of complex mechanisms, we decide what is a public good, what is a private good, what share of what we collectively pay for, and what percentage of costs do we want individuals to bear. We are all subsidised, whether we like it or not. This is great, I want to live in a society where we recognise the public good in healthy, educated, productive communities.

Off track here, but in England, the generous subsidies that food producers receive result from the government decision that protection of farmer’s land from development, and enhancement of bo-diversity, soil and water is a PUBLIC benefit, and that farmers simply could not be profitable if they had to bear the full weight of improving the natural environment on their farmland. In fact, Greenpeace shared an article about this last year, which begs the question – does Greenpeace agree with the subsidies in Great Britain, or not?

Because it seems to disgust Greenpeace that, because we have’t quite been able to work out how to best measure the net carbon footprint of our farmers (will we count the carbon sequestered in our shelter belts? in our native bush? in our soils?), we haven’t YET incorporated agriculture into the carbon emissions scheme.

Agriculture will be incorporated. The government knows this, farmers know this, Greenpeace knows this too. They just don’t say, because it doesn’t fit with their campaign. We just need to work out the best way to do it. Together.

My own personal experience with Greenpeace has been a discussion with one of the anti-dairy campaign team. She was lovely and cheerful, but unapologetic that the anti-dairy campaign would continue until dairy in NZ was knocked flat, and that sheep and beef would be the next target. She was unapologetic that families and communities could be devastated in the process, and unconcerned about the ‘truthfullnesss’ of any campaign tactics they would use in the process. Success was not outcome based. The success of the campaign was NOT based on improved water quality, it was NOT based on better soil, or bio-diversity. The success of the campaign was down to getting rid of cows.

So a number of ‘why farmers suck’ posts this week from Greenpeace, but guess what they didn’t post?

Beef and Lamb New Zealand released their Environment Strategy and Implementation plan. A clear, concise, positive document focussing on what matters – Our water, our soil, our bio-diversity and our net carbon emissions. The plan was clear, and started with understanding environmental outcomes on individual New Zealand sheep and beef farms and tailoring better environmental outcomes from there. Because no farms’ output is the same. For example, on our farm, our water quality is great, so perhaps our first focus should be on initiatives that enhance bio-diversity?

Did Greenpeace celebrate the release of this strategy? No! Any mention? No! And I can’t help but this that if they do acknowledge it, it will have a crappy little ‘but’ (unless they read this and try and double down on me).

#toomanycows may be a simple, sexy little catch-phrase that is easy for Greenpeace to sell. But it’s important to remember that hashtags don’t alway tell the complexity of facts. Remember, it can be far harder to explain a complex truth than tell a simple lie.

So let’s just put positivity, perspective and working together ahead of garnering donations and ‘likes’. Greenpeace, be my hero once again.

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