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The Ministry for the Environment’s latest environmental report presents a damning indictment of the way food is produced in New Zealand.
“The Ministry for the Environment has told the country in plain terms the way we farm is eroding the foundations of our environment, our economy, and the climate,” says Forest & Bird spokesperson Annabeth Cohen.
Continuing carbon emissions, compacted and eroded soils, massively increased nitrogen use, and native habitat loss are laid bare in the report.
The report says that:   

  • More than half (53%) of our gross emissions in 2018 were methane and nitrous oxide, with most coming from agriculture.
  • Native ecosystems continue to shrink, mainly through conversion to agriculture or forestry.   
  • Dairy cows have more than doubled since the 1980s to more than 6 million in 2019.  
  • The use of irrigation, especially on land used for dairy farming, has nearly doubled since 2002. 
  • Nitrogen use has skyrocketed from 62,000 to 452,000 tonnes per year between 1991 and 2019. 
  • 65% of dairy farms have compacted soils, and 60% use to much fertiliser.  
  • Nationwide 80% of monitoring sites failed to meet one or more soil quality targets.  
  • In the Mackenzie Basin, tenure review and agri-development have led to less than 10% of the valley floor retaining any form of protection, despite this being the home of many threatened plants and animals. 

“It is physically impossible to continue growing food the way we do in New Zealand. This report makes clear that there is simply not enough water, soil, or fertilizer capacity to continue on this dead-end path. One way or another, we cannot continue to farm on unsuitable land while raiding the environment for water and pollution disposal,” says Ms Cohen.
“Our farming leaders and policy makers have a straight-forward decision to make
either help farmers transition to food production systems that protect biodiversity, the climate, and fresh water, or continue to allow fertiliser and irrigation based agri-business to destroy rivers, soil, native habitat, and the climate.  
“Irrigation and fertilisers are being used to force food production on unsuitable land which can't naturally support it. The impacts on our environment are devastating.
“New Zealand’s great advantage is that the solutions are here now. But we need Government and the food production industry to stop delaying and take up these solutions. They must end the massive environmental raid on our native ecosystems and climate, and urgently help redirect our country to a place where our environment and communities can thrive.
“The report states that 'Farms benefit from the presence of native vegetation. It prevents erosion, filter nutrients out of water, and reduce the damage caused by floods – all of which increase a farm’s sustainability and ability to adapt to change. Farms and landscapes that have more diverse agriculture and vegetation types receive a greater range of environmental benefits'.

"There is over a million hectares of land that could be returned to native forest to cut emissions, improve water quality, and prevent erosion. When backed up by pest animal control, these forests will be an integral part of a future focused solution, says Ms Cohen.
“We need to redesign our cities to be more compact and livable. This will cut greenhouse gas emissions, protect native habitat, and preserve quality soil for food production.  

“This report must be the wake-up call that brings an end to industry delays and denial, so the whole country can get off the current dead-end track, and get on the path to a smarter future,” says Ms Cohen.

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