Monday, February 01, 2021

Climate Change: Culling the herd

Yesterday the Climate Change Commission gave clear and unequivocal advice that livestock numbers would need to reduce by 15% in order to meet climate change and water quality targets. So how can we do that? In Stuff yesterday, Henry Cooke suggested one option:

The truth is New Zealand already has the technology it needs to greatly reduce its agricultural emissions and water pollution: rifles.
Obviously, that is unacceptable on animal welfare grounds. But its also unnecessary. We don't need to have a gigantic cow-cull or nationwide BBQ for the climate. Instead, as I pointed out a few years ago, we can just rely on attrition. The average dairy cow is killed after five years, so reducing herd sizes is just a matter of not replacing some of them when they go to the works. This allows us to make quite significant changes to herd numbers relatively rapidly, without requiring any real effort.

Obviously, we could make deeper cuts by the same method. The Climate Change Commission was committed to minimising economic impacts, so they assumed that meat and milk production would have to remain the same. The 15% cut is thus effectively the benefit of expected efficiency increases over the next 15 years. But there's no reason we need to retain such high levels of farm output, especially as it is essentially exported luxury food.

As for how to do that, directly regulating stocking limits under the RMA is one way, and necessary for dairy. But for sheep and beef, planting trees is already more profitable than those marginal industries (and carbon prices are now over $38, so its even more true now). So perhaps the best way is to follow the Climate Commission's advice, raise the ETS price cap to $70, and let the market take its course. Dirty, inefficient farmers will be displaced by trees. And the more that happens, the better.