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Groundswell or Deep Earth?

Written By: - Date published: 10:22 am, October 20th, 2022 - 42 comments
Categories: climate change - Tags: , ,

It occurred to me this morning that the word groundswell was a good fit for those New Zealand’s farmers flexing their political muscles at parliament today. Groundswell works against nature, on the farm and in its politics. Groundswell for the most part represents the farmers who don’t care that much about the climate crisis, nor about nature.

The soil food web below is core to all life on earth, including humans and what we eat. It isn’t a part of conventional farming, and conventional ag usually has negative impacts on soil life and is degenerative over time.

A few thoughts on the context of today’s protest,

  1. there rural people (not just farmers) who are concerned about the direction of the government and the impacts on rural communities, and not all of them are right wing or climate denying or anti-Labour. We need to be looking at how to engage with them and their needs, because they are NZ citizens. They’re also increasingly part of an anti-government movement that may see Nact in power next year, but that is not inevitable.
  2. Food growing systems like regenerative farming, food forestry and philosophically embedded organics, all take into account the soil food web, and work with it to create systems of food production that are resilient and sustainable (or heading in that direction). Conventional ag is by definition degenerative.
  3. There are many farmers, including conventional ones, trying to do the right things and moving in the right direction. We should be supporting them. Let’s not forget about them in the noise today.
  4. New Zealand cannot keep producing export for food in the way we are currently doing. Eventually climate will collapse many of those farms with the increasing drought/flood cycles arriving with early climate change.  Global shortages of oil, fertiliser and other high tech inputs will increase. Expect crop failures and thus shortages to become a norm globally, and I can’t see how NZ will be exempt from that.
  5. Highly industrialised farming systems are more vulnerable to extreme weather and climate events, because they aren’t working with natural cycles and instead impose human desires often in really inappropriate places (think dairy farms in hot dry places like Central Otago, or very wet marshy places like Southland). Regenerative farming works with nature and natural systems and is in the business of creating resiliency.
  6. Industrial farming practices that Groundswell want supported are also agin our obligations to the global community and all of life to drop GHG emissions and to increase biodiversity and ecological health.

This is how Groundswell want to be allowed to farm,


This is what we could have instead,


My suggestion is that the government and farming sector brings in subsidies for farms to transition to regenag, organics or similar. This supports farmer to keep farming, and puts ag on an immediate track to address climate change and restore ecosystems. The culture needs to change, money will help because many farmers are trapped by economics and a system that won’t support doing the right things.

New Zealand as a whole should pay for this (export earnings support our lifestyles), but there should be conditions on those subsidies.

In order to do that we need major research and development into regenerative systems, and we need to train/recruit people into key farm advisor positions.

If you’re pissed off with Groundswell, don’t worry about it, vote Greens next year. Here’s their agriculture policy, Farming for the Future. The more Green and Māori Party MPs we have, the more the culture will change towards life.

42 comments on “Groundswell or Deep Earth? ”

  1. tsmithfield 1

    Weka, I do very much support the concept that greenhouse gases need to be reduced urgently worldwide. And also, I agree with the need to mitigate the impact of farming on our environment.

    What concerns me with many of the approaches I see is that there isn't worldwide co-ordination in this respect, and that has the potential to lead to unintended consequences.

    For example, I have heard the argument made that our farmers are some of the most efficient in terms of agriculture and greenhouse gasses. Therefore, if, say, government rules encourage farmers to put productive land into forestry, and therefore there is less agricultural production, then other countries with less efficient methods will fill the gap, and thereby the overall situation for the planet is net worse off.

    It seems to me that a more effective way to reduce agricultural emissions would be to heavily fund research into how emissions can be reduced and as a result increase the agricultural yield. The benefit of that type of approach is that it would give our farmers a competitive advantage over other countries. This would force other countries to take similar steps in order to remain competitive. Thus the net situation for the planet would be better off.

    I would be interested in your thoughts. I am very much for solutions that actually work from a global perspective, not simply rebalancing the deck chairs between countries, because this is a global problem.

    • arkie 1.1

      For example, I have heard the argument made that our farmers are some of the most efficient in terms of agriculture and greenhouse gasses.

      You have heard this because it comes from a DairyNZ commissioned report


      New Zealand has an outsized agricultural emissions footprint relative to its population. Data from the United Nations shows NZ’s agriculture sector was 11th highest for total emissions of Annex I countries in 2020 with 39.4 million tonnes (MT). This puts the country ahead of the likes of Spain (38.5MT), Italy (32.2MT), Japan (32.2MT) and the Netherlands (17.7MT).

      “The high level of agricultural production in New Zealand means we produce a lot of methane and nitrous oxide,” and these gases “have a greater warming effect compared with carbon dioxide,” the Ministry says.

      It says almost half of New Zealand’s gross emissions come from the agriculture sector (48 per cent), while the average for Annex I nations is 12.3 per cent.


      • tsmithfield 1.1.1

        Sounds like that. It was being discussed on the radio the other day. I am not a farmer by the way in case you think I am from Groundswell or something.

        Probably our agricultural emissions per capita would be high, simply because we are an agricultural country with a small population. On that basis, a way to bring down our emissions per capita would be to open the immigration doors and say, double our population while keeping our farming constant. So, that type of measure doesn't mean much in terms of our actual emissions.

        I am looking more at relative efficiency from a farming perspective. Driving down the actual emissions rather than mucking around with population counts seems a lot more relevant to me.

    • AB 1.2

      Other countries are not going to allow NZ farmers to displace their internal agriculture industry because we have somewhat lower emissions. They care about their own food security and the social viability of their rural communities. Ain't happening and was never going to – it's a fantasy remnant of the national competitive advantage hocus pocus we heard all the time decades ago. And no global authority will or can act as the policeman to enforce some system that would let us off the hook in this way – it would take years of trying to set up such a thing and would not succeed because no-one would comply..

      This argument is a clever-sounding rationalisation of climate inaction.

      • tsmithfield 1.2.1

        "This argument is a clever-sounding rationalisation of climate inaction."

        Yet you have listed a number of reasons why the world is stuffed: Too much self-interest world-wide, and the lack of a global enforcement mechanism.

        Perhaps one solution with respect to agriculture would be a universally agreed tariff structure that rewards agricultural efficiency with respect to C02.

        In addition to the incentives to improve production practices, another benefit of this approach is that there would be a lot more regional trading due to the impact of C02 emissions from freighting over distance. This should reduce the amount of shipping and global emissions associated with that.

    • weka 1.3

      For example, I have heard the argument made that our farmers are some of the most efficient in terms of agriculture and greenhouse gasses.

      Sure, but the standard is very low and not hard to beat. If our farmers are the most efficient but it's still not sufficient, then it's not sufficient.

      Therefore, if, say, government rules encourage farmers to put productive land into forestry, and therefore there is less agricultural production, then other countries with less efficient methods will fill the gap, and thereby the overall situation for the planet is net worse off.

      There are regen farming models that mix forestry and farming. See what I just did there? Once you step out of the idea that we can tinker with the current model, other solutions appear.

      What NZ could be doing is upscaling regen models fast, testing them, developing how to transition, and selling that to the world. Be world leaders in making our food production sustainable and resilient.

      It seems to me that a more effective way to reduce agricultural emissions would be to heavily fund research into how emissions can be reduced and as a result increase the agricultural yield.

      Can't do both I'm afraid. The reason we get so much production is because fossil fuels gives an enormous advantage. Millions of years of sunlight energy compressed into a form that is very energy dense. We've wasted that for the most part, used it up in a mere few hundred years and we just have to stop.

      What we can do instead, is work with the efficiencies of natural systems. The adage is that regen systems are less productive in terms of output, but they're still financially viable because there are far less artificial inputs that are a big part of the farm budget.

      In terms of producing enough food for the world, two things.

      1. we waste a huge amount of food in the current global system. I've seen figure as high as 30%.

      2. local food production is more resilient than the globalised system. A large amount of food can be grown in home gardens, community gardens, urban farms, and on the fertile land that still surrounds many cities. Not only are the farm GHGs dropped there, but the transport and refrigeration ones are too.

      If we create other ways of running our economy, the farming issues change. Grow food for NZ, produce surplus to share with the world, restore a large amount of land to functioning ecosystems that support life. There's good work showing that having healthy ecosystems in a catchment supports nearby farm productivity. Lots of ways to think about this, and measure it.

      • tsmithfield 1.3.1

        Thanks Weka, I appreciate your thoughts.

        I am all for win-win answers because that means there is likely more motivation for affected parties to comply and less likelihood of cheating.

        For instance, a good example from a more general perspective is the move towards working from home that became a thing during the pandemic. The more we can encourage people to work from home, the less vehicle emissions and less need for roads. Plus it is good for many workers who can enjoy the flexibility and reduced travel costs.

        From a farming perspective, I am thinking more in terms of GE. I don't know if that is still a touchy area for the Greens. But, if we can breed cattle that produce less emissions and thereby put on more body mass that has to be good for both farmers and the planet. And if we can develop crops that flourish with less fertiliser, that also is a win-win.

        From a regen perspective, many farms in hilly areas will have very unproductive land due to steep slopes etc. So, this type of land could easily be put into trees without any major disadvantage to the productive capacity of the farmers. The biggest issue for me is that we don't end up with massive pine forests. I think we should be incentivising the planting of native trees and create something beautiful.

        Farming is a difficult area because the world is short of food, and NZ is a major contributor to meeting that need. So, if we can make significant reductions to our greenhouse gas impact without affecting our food production, that too is a win-win.

  2. Agree very strongly with your point 1.
    I have family who are died-in-the-wool trade-union-members, highly supportive of Labour and Ardern – living in small town/rural NZ (Wairoa) – who are deeply concerned at the impact some of the agricultural policies are already having on their town – and see the negative trends accelerating.

    They don't (yet) blame Ardern (they recognize that there are long-term systemic issues in play affecting rural NZ – and that there needs to be change in agricultural policy and systems – to support shifts to carbon neutrality)

    But they see those carbon-change costs as falling disproportionately on their community. Transforming farms into forestry has huge impacts on numbers employed, on paycheques being spent locally, on numbers at schools and the rating base. And this is the trend they see happening. (Forestry also has direct costs – especially on the roading infrastructure)

    And discussions about reducing the herd size – seem to always (in practice) result in farms moving from agriculture to forestry.

    If there is not some plan to address this – then I can see their vote being captured by a party which does have a plan.

  3. Ad 3

    Both Fonterra and NZMP already pay farmers for organic milk, also Pamu is 100% organic milk, indeed there's a whole organic milk farmers cooperative.

    The first thing to do if you want to offer advice to a farmer is: own a farm, a bank, or a dairy company. The rest is just politics.

    Also Minister Parker has refused to extend the winter feedout regulatory carveouts.

    They are of course the most effective lobby in this country, but farmers really are the drivers of 81.4% of our exports. That's how we continue to pay for one of the most cohesive and best performing public services around.

    • arkie 3.1

      best performing public services

      Citation needed.

      • Ad 3.1.1

        No it isn't.

      • Stuart Munro 3.1.2

        There are public servants who will swear blue and purple that Treasury are on the ball, that the QMS is not a rort built into a clusterfuck, that cameras on fishing boats (which are there to replace observers, who were there to replace fisheries officers) are a step forward, or that contemporary Health and Safety is not a théâtre de l'absurde.

        Which is pretty much why the public are immensely skeptical of them.

  4. X Socialist 4

    ''My suggestion is that the government and farming sector brings in subsidies for farms to transition to regenag, organics or similar.''

    The reason NZ farmers are the most efficient in the world is because Labour removed SMP subsidies. That cost some farmers their farms and lively hoods. Other farmers took a different approach – a bullet in the head. I was working in the Ag sector at the time and I lost two farmers/customers to suicide.

    Now it seems farmers are being victimised again with unreasonable legislation from an ideological driven government who fails to understand the realities of farming.

    Organics cannot replace commercial production. It certainly can compete, but not replace. Sri Lanka and Cuba have learnt hard lessons about organics.

    It seems to me this isn't an issue that has a middle ground ( my perception). People will need to choose sides and vote accordingly.

    • Drowsy M. Kram 4.1

      I benefit personally from BAU agriculture and kicking the CC can down the road – spaceship Earth’s future human generations are unlikely to be picking apart the whys and wherefores of 2022 argy-bargy, and how could it matter to me if they were?

      On New Zealand farm, scientists reduce cow burps with an eye on global warming [12 Oct 2022]
      Farmers, businesses and scientists are working on ways to cut emissions without reducing herd numbers. Agricultural products are more than 75% of the country’s goods exports.

      Good 'ol scientists – there is hope – where would we (and Kowbucha) be without them.

      Sweetheart climate payouts for farmers [updated 18 Oct 2022]
      Agricultural emissions are behind two thirds of the warming New Zealand is responsible for, but the sector is slated to get special benefits under the Government's farm pricing proposal

      Given the fiery response from the primary sector, it's certainly possible the pricing proposal will be further watered down. A future National government might even gut the scheme, like the last National government did efforts to put the sector into the ETS.

      But this ongoing imbalance between responsibility for warming and obligation to cut emissions means farm pricing will always be lurking around the corner, even if it is put off a little longer.

    • weka 4.2

      The reason NZ farmers are the most efficient in the world is because Labour removed SMP subsidies. That cost some farmers their farms and lively hoods. Other farmers took a different approach – a bullet in the head. I was working in the Ag sector at the time and I lost two farmers/customers to suicide.

      What I remember is the removal of subsidies along with bank treachery forced families to sell their farms. It was the start of the shift towards business ag and industrial ag that ended up where we are today: farmers and farms locked into high debt and a financial system that makes it very hard to do the right thing., and that brings enormous pressure when shit goes bad eg drought or poor prices. It's also the system that makes climate action and ecological restoration very hard to do. It's insane.

      I can't see how propping all that up with fossil fuels is either efficient or better than subsidies.

      I also don't buy the whole NZ farms are so efficient thing. We're relatively efficient to some other places eg US cafo. But we're still not very efficient. Patently not efficient when it comes to climate at all.

      Now it seems farmers are being victimised again with unreasonable legislation from an ideological driven government who fails to understand the realities of farming.

      This looks like the statement from someone who doesn't believe the climate crisis is real and here now.

      Organics cannot replace commercial production. It certainly can compete, but not replace. Sri Lanka and Cuba have learnt hard lessons about organics.

      This is just stupid. Sri Lanka's adoption of organics came via some weird and desperate economics. NZ isn't in that situation and no-one is suggesting doing what SL did.

      Don't know what your point is about Cuba (because you didn't say). Cuba was forced into a kind of food self sufficiency in a very short space of time because of the collapse of the Soviet Union and losing a lot of ag and fossil fuel trade support. Again, that situation doesn’t apply to NZ

    • tWiggle 4.3

      I was flatting with a MAF farm economist in the mid 80s before farm subsidies were removed. He told us then that NZ farmers got $2 from the NZ taxpayer for every $1 of farm export earnings, which I found disgusting. Another friend from a farming family said it was removal of subsidies at the same time that banks were charging 20% interest that stressed farmers carrying high land debt, which was by no means everyone.

      The lack of subsidisation has helped make NZ agribusiness resilient, and and contributes to overcoming tariff barriers e.g. into the US. As someone also pointed out here recently, returns for farmers have been good the past few years… The elephant in the room is land speculation in NZ, which again is making the cost of servicing farm mortgages unaffordable.

      US agribusiness sector votes are bought by their government subsidies. The EU has taken another path in places like France, and until recently, the UK, by subsidising smallholders to maintain high-value artisinal production. In NZ, an enormous part of our government-funded research sector focuses on keeping agribusiness up to date. That is where subsidy money is best spent, not on townies paying for farmers' utes and private schools, as they did in the past.

      • weka 4.3.1

        please fix your username on next comment (assuming that is a typo). And please stick to one username from now on, thanks.

  5. bwaghorn 5

    Just a random thought.

    Livestock are the most resilient crop a farmer can grow with regards to extreme weather, Barring a massive storm at lambing, livestock can usually be keep a live and productive through most things with being nimble in you reactions..

    Look at happened in the extreme frost we just had up here in the Central North Island wiped out blue berries kiwifruit and asparagus crops . I just feed out a bit more and rode it out

    • weka 5.1

      I remember some of those first big droughts in the South Island. Farms had to remove stock because there was no feed. The organic farms still had feed, because their mixed ley pastures were more drought resistant.

      I take your point though. It's for this reason that many people favour polycultures.

  6. Maurice 6

    If only city people would stop buying food produced by farmers ….

    That would get their attention //

    • X Socialist 6.1

      Yep, that would get their attention, Maurice. Lol!

    • scotty 6.2

      Already doing just that ,

      I wont buy any Talley's products, Corporate milk,Canadian pork, out of season fruit and vege for example.

    • newsense 6.3

      Stopped drinking cows milk at home.

      Im not as mad as the 30% of people who have reduced their meat intake though!

      Yeh, how to convince people you are ethical producer- turn up 1-2 decades late and inconvenience the customer. That’s the action of the most diligent, meticulous and thoughtful food producers…Or when someone manages to get concessions off French farmers for you, complain about it. Or try to get around a torturing animal investigation. I mean we don’t go looking for examples of farmers being twits, they just pile up in the inbox constantly.

      NZ has a significant number of vegans and plenty who are taking action at a lesser level.

  7. Molly 7

    I don't disagree with a move to regenerative farming, but I do think the link to the Groundswell website is needed to give some idea of what the protests are about:


    Most of the mission statement is the interpretation of proposed regulatory changes. Not necessarily a demand to continue with environmentally degrading farming practices. They also have a campaign page that details some of their concerns.

    I am not incognisant of the fact that Groundswell will have very few members that voted for this government, and some may be purely politically motivated in their protest. However, I do share concerns about the way Three Waters has been designed and proposed, and some of their other concerns. And while I'm not adverse to rewarding farmers for making a transition, another accreditation scheme is most likely regarded as yet more paperwork for paper works sake.

    (As an alternative, a robust a tax system that took transitioning efforts (and other factors) into account, and reduced payable tax commensurately. B-Corporation style. Put a similar system in place in NZ, and allocate tax rates according to scoring system. This works for any business or industry and can be set up and run by the IRD.)

    For the juggling act that farming transition has to manage, there was a good article in North & South last year: The Fight for the Future of Farming by Nicola Harvey.

    Some good personal anecdotes from either side of the conversation are there.

    Final paragraph probably sums it up:

    "In more than one one conversation, Wiari Ruahina made reference to the phrase “manaaki whenua, manaaki tangata”. Care for the land, care for the people. It’s an elegant philosophy that is filtering through conversations about how New Zealand will farm in the future. But to put it into practice is the challenge that all farmers now face.

    When I asked Frank Griffin if he was hopeful New Zealand’s farmers would embrace the environmental practices embedded in the government’s regulations, he said that we’ll need all the rules to get started. But he’s confident the sector is capable of major change. “In the background, farmers are the most incredibly creative and sensitive bunch of people,” he says. “They just need some assurance.” Assurance that changing the way they farm won’t result in the end of the farm."

  8. A bit of sarcasm on twitter (whole thread is good).

    And here's a Slane cartoon of what the farmers convoy *could* be if they weren't dicks

  9. Des 9

    Just a thought. Maybe farmers who still want to farm animals should consider non-rumenant animals such as free range pigs.

    • Ad 9.1

      The NZ pig meat industry has been smashed to near nothing by cheap imports.

      So; no.

    • Stuart Munro 9.2

      The change that is needed is away from mass commodity production towards higher value, more developed products. It has been tried before, but not in a joined-up way. Fibre and footwear are staples of our civilization, but successive administrations have neglected them.

      So we get exploitation shoes, and not the antipodean equivalent of the Lewis Tweed. Neoliberalism – impoverishing worker's lives since it was invented.

  10. Stuart Munro 10

    Stuff has a fairly detailed look at the positions, often recirculated by Groundswell, that originated in a piece of Dairy PR.

  11. Paul Campbell 11

    I guess I'm confused by they try to cry poor by driving their really expensive tractors around town, it makes no sense

    • Muttonbird 11.1

      I saw a groundswell tractor parked at a petrol station near Pukekohe today. On it was written, "Jacinda is out of control".

      First I thought, Jacinda is not out of control, she's the PM and very much in control. But then a bit further down the road I realised these vandals mean Jacinda is out of their control.

      That is what opposition to Three Waters is all about, the loss of control to do with water whatever they please. By having significant and friendly representation on local councils, farming vandals are able to get away with murder. The new structure would take away that control and give it back to all New Zealanders. A concept they hate.

      • Mike the Lefty 11.1.1

        There's a significant element of Groundswell that just has a personal grudge against Jacinda and if you try to engage them in constructive argument they don't even know their facts.

        I tried to engage one of them in Palmerston North last year and he could only blurt out the same old National Party lines about Jacinda "having it in for farmers…"
        When I pressed him for more detail he got angry and told me to "p… off"

        I suspect that some of them don't actually know why they are protesting but are there because the National Party wind-up men are pushing them.

        Then they will fill up their brand new Ford Rangers, buy a few dozen at the local bottle store and complain how cruel life has been.

        • Muttonbird

          Yep, it's first world problems for these guys.

          One thing the government could do which would wind them up no end is to make their pathetic, slow tractors illegal on state highways.

          I don’t drive on their farm so they shouldn’t drive on my road!

  12. bwaghorn 12

    Subsidizing thefarmer to regneg,is all well Inwood bit what are you going to do with the staff he lays off ?

    What are ypu going to do for the schools ,small town businesses, and the other workers like the largely rural Maori shaerers.

    • weka 12.1

      talk me through that b. Why would the farmer lay off staff?

      Why would regenag transition subsidies not sit alongside other supports for rural communities?

      • bwaghorn 12.1.1

        I'm on 750 ha finishing farm its part of a outfit with a 30000 stock unit station, that feeds stock to me to finish, we crop something like 80 ha a year and another 80 ha resown after 2 years of an Italian/clover mix for maximum growth, we have 3.5 labour units plus the general manager would derive a portion of his income from it, .

        With out ruthless cropping and a decent dollop of fert each year this place couldn't come close to that many staff, (I'm at 800m above sea-level)

        • weka

          couldn't support that number of staff doing conventional ag differently. Why couldn't it support that number of staff doing regen food production?

          Farms that size in the past had more workers, right?

          • bwaghorn

            Maybe in the past when labour was cheap and the world was different,

            Lower input less stock units would mean this farm would run with 2 staff easily.

      • bwaghorn 12.1.2

        What are you going to subsidize rural towns to become?

        • weka

          depends on the town, but this is not a new idea, that we have to transition economies. Think about towns with closing saw mills and such.

          I'm not sure why you think towns would be worse off with the local farms transitioning to regen.

          • bwaghorn

            I haven't got time to follow the whole ets plan on the table but there are talking a 20% reduction in sheep and beef farms, I and 5 people out here out of work out of a home ,

  13. newsense 13


    compare the BS and column inches of this astroturfed crap for around 100 people in Wellington and less in Dunedin.

    2019 there were 170,000 who turned out for the climate strike. There was no call for the climate. No emergency funding.

    The media have been complicit and are failing those who will have to live in a severely climate affected future.

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