The National Party used to be the farmer's friend but these days you have to wonder.
According to former ministers Barnaby Joyce and Matt Canavan, writing in The Australian, "a net zero emissions policy would destroy any hope of expanding Australian farming". Really?
They are referring to the policy that many countries, all Australian states and an increasing number of Australian businesses have adopted - reducing our carbon emissions to net zero over the next 30 or so years. That doesn't mean stopping all carbon going into the atmosphere. Instead we would be taking as much or more out as we put in. And that's where agriculture comes in.
The Morrison government hasn't yet agreed to a net zero target but the federal Nationals worry that it will. Deputy Prime Minister and party leader Michael McCormack thinks that, if we do, we could exempt agriculture. Carving out industries may be in the interests of the coal and other fossil fuel interests that donate generously to the Nationals. But it sure isn't in the interests of farmers.
Don't take my word for it. Adam Marshall, the NSW Minister for Agriculture, didn't hold back in response to his National Party colleagues. "Ring fencing farmers from a net zero carbon target is nothing but political point scoring based on the needs of those who think in timelines that are based on their political needs, not the future of agriculture.
"How can farmers shape the future of this policy and cash in on opportunities when they are totally excluded from it?...What I want is for farmers to be paid for the valuable environmental benefits they bring to the table for NSW, for biodiversity, carbon, renewables, sustainable agriculture and so many other untapped potential income streams. By cutting them out you're cutting them off."
READ ALSO: Preparations for Goulburn Show in full swing
Farmer bodies long ago left the federal Nationals in their wake. The National Farmers Federation has a target of net zero emissions by 2050. The Meat and Livestock Corporation and the grain industry are aiming for 2030 and the pork industry for 2025.
Last year saw the first Australian farmer earning payments for putting carbon back into the soil under the federal government's Climate Solutions Fund. Microsoft is aiming to be carbon neutral by 2030 and has just paid the Wilmot Cattle Company in northern NSW $500,000 for carbon credits under a privately run scheme.
It is the way of the future and the potential is huge. Even a slight increase in soil carbon levels over the vast areas in Australia where agriculture is practised can move us a long way towards net zero. As an increasing number of farmers are realising, it is a win-win: building up organic matter and storing carbon improves the soil, which improves plant growth and reduces the need for costly fertilisers.
Here in the Goulburn area, Community Voice for Hume is launching a grazing group next month to promote this kind of sustainable, regenerative farming. It is just one of similar groups springing up all over the country. And regional communities all over the country, including Goulburn, are benefiting from wind and solar farms.
There is another reason why we as a nation should stop dragging our heels on carbon emissions: other countries won't let us get away with it. The European Union and Britain, with the strong backing of industry and environmental lobbies, are moving towards imposing a border levy on carbon. The levy would be equivalent to the price European countries already charge industries for carbon emissions and it would fall on exports from Australia and other countries that do not price their carbon. It also is one of the strong measures promised by the Biden administration in the US to combat climate change.
Our local MP and Energy Minister Angus Taylor says he is "dead against" such measures. Good luck with winning that one, Angus. The Europeans and Americans are making exactly the same point that energy intensive industries successfully argued in Australia when we introduced a price on carbon, subsequently scrapped by the Abbott government. That is, they want protection from unfair competition from countries that that have cost free carbon.
Some conservatives have forgotten the underlying meaning of their own name - conserving the things most precious to us. Like the planet.
Mike Steketee is a farmer and freelance journalist. He is member of The Goulburn Group (TGG) and of Community Voice for Hume.
Do you have something to say? Send a letter to the editor: