The United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union on Friday and the beginning of trade negotiations between the two blocs removes come uncertainty for NZ’s meat industry.
Speaking at the recent Beef + Lamb New Zealand annual meeting, in Timaru, Muller said he always “smiles” when he hears people talk about challenges to agriculture, as though they are mountains too difficult to climb.
“The whole history of NZ agriculture is one long story of adaptation, of being able to adjust to whatever challenges and signals are put in front of you. You don’t need me to list all of them but I see some on the horizon that we’re going to have to grapple with.”
Muller says farmers face increasingly demanding consumer expectations in food provenance and sustainability. Understanding, documenting and measuring a farm’s impact on its environment would be critical in being able to justify the premium farmers quite rightly expect.
In that context, Muller says the conversation on climate change and farm emissions is “yet another layer of expectation” on food producers.
“We will constantly be working on your behalf to ensure that the policy responses that any given minister or government consider are best to enable that change to happen are anchored in science and are actually doable from a technological perspective; in short, that you can continue your business and be sustainable and successful in the medium term.”
Muller says he’s in constant discussion on behalf of the National Party with the Minister for Climate Change Issues and Green Party co-leader James Shaw and the Interim Climate Change Committee, with its particular focus on agriculture and the Emission Trading Scheme.
“It is not particularly usual for an opposition spokesman to be sitting in a room with his ministerial counterpart, trying to design legislation together. But that’s what we’re doing with the Zero Carbon Bill,” Muller told the meeting.
“It is seeking to establish a commission like they have in the UK which will sit above politics and essentially advise and guide successive parliaments and governments as to how we wrestle with the challenge of reducing our emissions over the next 20, 30, 40, 50 years.”
Muller says while the idea has merit, National would support it only if it adhered to certain key principles. The first is that the commission must have access to broad international science and be flexible to new information.
Secondly, it had to acknowledge the “enabling” role of innovation.
“It makes no sense, in the National Party’s view, to ask of a sector which does not have a technological solution in front of it – apart from farming fewer cows or reducing stock numbers – that they must change... fast.”
“The world population is going to grow 15% over the next 30, 40 years. Food production is critical. We’re the most efficient food producers in the world from an emissions perspective. What are we doing just taxing [this ability] into oblivion if you do not have in front of you tools to apply on your farm to be able to make a difference?”
Muller pointed out that it was National that signed up for the 2015 climate accord.
“There is a great chunk of New Zealand that believes that [the Paris accord] is not ambitious enough. I reject that entirely. Leadership for me is taking a farm system that is already one of the most efficient in the world and looking at ways to improve it incrementally – with the application of technology, smart measuring systems and all the things you are talking about when you reflect on your farm environment plans and how they’ve changed over the years and will continue to change.
“I reject the view that leadership is having a hugely high ambitious target, but no sense of how to get there apart from putting huge additional cost on our most productive sectors.”