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July, 2009

Tackling Agriculture's Carbon Footprint

The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry's recently released study on the likely impact of the emissions trading scheme (ETS) on agriculture has, understandably, created considerable alarm in farming circles. Under the conditions prevailing in 2006/7, sheep, beef and deer farming are definitely at risk if the ETS is extended to agriculture in the planned manner.

Press Release from the NZ Farm Forestry Association

But people should read the whole study says NZ Farm Forestry President Patrick Milne. The they will see that tree planting can offer a solution, partial under some scenarios, but total under other conditions. With 20% of a sheep and beef property in forestry, there would be surplus carbon credits available for sale and at $50/tonne for carbon, this results in a significant lift in profitability.

Afforestation should not be considered in isolation, but it must be a key part of any strategy to tackle agricultural emissions states Mr Milne.

The question is whether having 20% of sheep and beef properties in forestry is realistic says Mr Milne. In many cases the answer is definitely yes; there are farm foresters who have 20% or more of their properties in forestry without seriously under-mining their livestock operations.

Certainly, having 10% of current sheep and beef country in forestry, roughly balancing emissions for 30-40 years, is a very reasonable objective claims Mr Milne. This would mean afforesting around 1 million hectares, which happens to be the area of highly erodible hill country that the most conservative researchers consider should be under tree cover. Others quote significantly higher figures.

There is, within New Zealand, at least 1 million hectares of low productivity, highly erodible, often weed infested, pastoral land that could be afforested without significantly impacting on stock numbers. Indeed, the experience amongst some farm foresters is that by focusing inputs onto their better land they may actually increased stock numbers and/or performance.

Meanwhile there are other environmental gains as well as soil conservation including improved water quality, biodiversity and shelter. There are a diversity of production species and also natives that could and should be included in any afforestation programme says Mr Milne. It need not, and should not, be blanket radiata pine plantings.

Planting a million hectares is not an impossible dream claims Mr Milne, after all 600,000 hectares was planted in the 1990s. However work needs to get under way quickly and assistance will be needed for financially stretched farmers.

Ironically, says Mr Milne, some of the more seriously exposed land owners may well be the longer established farm foresters - the 'early adopters' who established their woodlots and forests before 1990 and thus do not qualify for carbon credits. Has the Government thought about how it might handle these cases?

For further information contact:
Patrick Milne: 03 312 6599, or 0274 710 224

or Denis Hocking: 06 322 1254, or 021 051 4479

Farm Forestry - Headlines

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