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.
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.