Academics claim NZ will in future be better off with no dairy industry!!

April 30th, 2015 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

A peer-reviewed study authored by Massey University scientists has claimed that worst-case scenario costs to society from environmental harm caused by farming could equal the economic benefits of the dairy industry, creating a “zero-sum” situation for the country.

However, the paper, titled NZ Dairy Farming — Milking Our Environment for All Its Worth, has come under heavy criticism by economics academics approached by the New Zealand Herald today.

I’m somewhat surprised it got through peer review, after reading the critiques. Some extracts:

“The report does a good job in identifying some of the environmental harms from dairying, but, at least on a first reading, does not provide a reliable estimate of the value of those harms,” said Dr Eric Crampton, head of research at the New Zealand Institute.

He believed some of the tallied costs used in the calculations — such as harm a farmer might do to his or her own pasture through soil compaction where stocking rates were too high — should have never been considered “external” costs, while other costs appeared “over-estimated”.

This is the same fatal flaw that the BERL alcohol study had also – treating private costs as public costs. That is not a minor issue.

“The high-end estimates of the costs of nitrogen leaching, estimated at over $10 billion, seem to assume we would need to remediate all water in New Zealand to a drinking water standard — however, very few sites currently exceed nitrogen standards for drinking water.”

So it is based on the most far fetched scenario possible.

Dr Crampton also took issue with the upper-bound cost of the second largest cost component factored into the report, national dairy greenhouse gas emissions, which was put at over $3 billion.

“But that figure cannot be relevant for policy without considering relative greenhouse-gas intensity of dairy production in different countries and without considering the alternative uses to which dairy land would be put if it were not in dairying — and especially where the paper notes that dairy makes up half of New Zealand’s agricultural emissions,” he said.

“If every dairy cow in New Zealand disappeared, we would see more cows elsewhere and more beef and sheep production here. The net effect on greenhouse gas emissions is not particularly clear.

Exactly. It might indeed increase greenhouse gas emissions globally.

Professor Frank Scrimgeour, director of the Institute for Business Research at Waikato University, slammed the research as “sloppy” and argued its bold claims could not be substantiated.

“The authors do not do any original data collection, estimation or modelling,” he said.

“They synthesised existing data without ensuring that measurements are consistent through space or time.

And also:

University of Waikato professor of agribusiness Jacqueline Rowarth said it was “naive” to expect water quality in waterways could be restored to drinking water standards, and she noted people reading the study needed “to consider alternatives and relativities”.

“This sort of research doesn’t actually get us anywhere, and that’s disappointing.”

Federated Farmers point out:

“To give you an idea, the report used the 1980’s figure suggesting Taranaki had 40% of its sites exceeding the Drinking Water Standard.  If the authors had bothered to talk to the Taranaki Regional Council they would have found the more pleasing result of just 4% (cite pg. 17 of the 2014 Taranaki State of the Environment Report) of sites in Taranaki exceeding the Drinking Water Standard.”

So they were using 1980s data instead of 2014 data. Again how did this get through peer review?

But no doubt we will see this study promoted by the Greens as justifying their policy to get rid of as many cows as possibly.

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NZ Herald on Mike Joy

November 27th, 2012 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The NZ Herald editorial yesterday:

Russel Norman is absolutely right to say that scientists must be free to perform their academic duty to report environmental degradation. But in talking about concerns raised by Massey University scientist Mike Joy, the Green Party co-leader should also have noted that any comments from academia should be fair and accurate. If not, they can expect to be the subject of well-warranted criticism. Such is the case with Dr Joy’s comments about New Zealand’s environmental record.


Dr Joy told the newspaper that although this country promoted itself as “100 per cent Pure New Zealand”, the reality came nowhere close to matching this. “We don’t deserve 100 per cent Pure, we are nowhere near the best in the world, we are not even in the top half of countries in the world when it comes to clean and green,” he said.

Maybe Dr Joy has not travelled a lot. I have. To say we are not even in the top half is bonkers. No doubt he has some criteria that he bases his claims on – but the criteria he uses will not be ones most people would regard as vital for clean and green.

But the reality of New Zealand is also a long way from the bottom half of the countries of the world in terms of pristine environments. Whatever its deficiencies, it is nonsensical to place this country in the company of the world’s more polluted nations.

The 2008 Environmental Performance Index has NZ 7th highest in the world. The Greenest Countries Index has NZ at 19th out of 141. We are 13th lowest for air pollution. So of course not perfect, but Dr Joy’s smearing of NZ as being in the bottom half is just cherry picked data to make shock headlines.

Dr Joy is also making something of a habit of this practice. In an Opinion article in the Herald in April last year, he exclaimed that “far from being 100 per cent pure, natural, clean, or even green, the real truth is we are an environmental/biodiversity catastrophe”. This implies a situation where there is great damage or suffering. On no account could that be considered close to reality.

We have had a big loss of biodiversity. But that is more a historical issue. Yes many species were wiped out 150 years ago. So does that mean no one should visit New Zealand today?

Academics have a right and responsibility to comment publicly on issues of importance to the community without fear or favour. Their expert knowledge makes them an important part of any public discussion. But their comments must be appropriate. Dr Joy’s exaggerations fail that test. If he wants his criticism to be treated seriously, it will have to be expressed in a more judicious manner.

When academics become politicians, they get treated as such.
UPDATE: I should make clear I have no problems at all with academics publishing research showing our environment is not as good as it could be. I doubt anyone does. The issue is around the words Dr Joy used to describe New Zealand, and the timing of his comments – which appear to be timed to do maximum damage to NZ.
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