Groundswell stalled before the engines even started

by | Oct 21, 2022 | Opinion

 The latest outing of enraged farmers has turned out to be less a swell than a ripple. No surprises there.


Groundswell and its ilk have lost the public relations battle before they even started their engines. The momentum for action on agricultural emissions has firmly tilted in favour of the facts. And the facts are plain:

  • Agriculture is the largest contributor to New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions
  • The government, the public and (most critically to farmers) customers like Tesco and Sainsbury are demanding farmers provide credible reduction pathways
  • For the last 20 years the agri-sector has successfully avoided regulation, notably winning exclusion from the ETS
  • He Waka Eke Noa is the industry-created mechanism that rewards farmers for reducing emissions and provides a levy (not a tax) for research into its own sustainable future.

This logic doesn’t flow for some. On Friday morning Westland District’s new mayor, Helen Lash, told RNZ’s Morning Report that “no one is talking to farmers”.

“We have been doing that for 20 years,” said host Guyon Espiner.

“Yeah, but they don’t listen,” Lash replied.

She meant the government but she could well be talking about farmers. Or at least some farmers. He Waka Eke Noa is remarkably inclusive, spanning all sub-sectors of the primary industries, iwi and Māori organisations, MPI, MfE and many individual submitters.  At the launch event it was promoted as a world-leading example of cross-party cooperation.

If anyone’s not listening it’s Lash.

There’s politics at play.

The government has proposed minor changes to HWEN. Federated Farmers and other critics have seized on those changes to accuse the government of bad faith. This is not the HWEN we signed up for, they say. Groundswell was never signed up anyway, so they need little reason to throw their toys or make hyperbolic comparisons between Jacinda Adern and Joseph Stalin (really?). But the Feds are being disingenuous. Their alarmist talk about the death of rural New Zealand is a rearguard action – designed to appeal to those members it’s losing to more extremist elements such as Groundswell and that toxic dumpster-fire, Voices for Freedom.



The Feds are also holding out hope for a change of government. That’s a 50/50 call and even then it’s no guarantee of a better result. ACT, along with the economists advising the National Party, argue the ETS is the right mechanism for driving down GHGs. A rising carbon price will drive the right changes, they say. The Feds should be careful what they wish for.

We all should. As we discussed last week, the agri-sector is in danger of losing its most important stakeholder: the customer. More importantly, without a stable climate farming gets much, much harder.



Twenty years ago driving a tractor up the steps of Parliament worked a treat. The public laughed, the government caved and agri-business was free to massively increase production and emissions.

The joke’s not funny anymore. Everyone, including the majority of farmers, wants to get on with reducing agri-emissions. The tractor party is over before it began.


Photo credit: Aiman Amerul Muner from Critic Te Ārohi

About the Author

Vincent Heeringa

Hi, I'm Vincent! I'm a co-founder of The Feed, a writer, marketer and PR expert specialising in food, tech and sustainability. In a previous life I was publisher of Idealog, Stoppress, NZ Marketing and Good magazines and helped establish the Science Media Centre. I'm also the host of a podcast ‘This Climate Business’. When I'm not burning the midnight oil, I'm hitting the town or planting trees with my wife Sarah. Ping me to talk about all things food. @vheeringa

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