With shifting attitudes to how we manage our land and our animals, it makes sense that many Kiwi farmers are ditching the shears and drenching gun in favour of a shovel and a bag of pine seeds.
Carbon credits are the latest trend in offsetting the effects of climate change, and they are allowing landowners a chance to earn passive income simply from planting more forests. It’s a win-win situation for everyone; where farmers who are looking to get out of their more traditional industries can find some common ground with environmentalists.
Exotic, as in any introduced species of tree such as pine or macrocarpa, are proving to be the most popular because they grow quicker than natives and they're the fastest at absorbing carbon.
Gavin Forrest of Federated Farmers indicates the big push forward is towards Permanent Forestry.
“These trees won't get cut down while they earn money through carbon credits. It's more than what you'd get for their wood, and then you'd have to pay back some of the carbon and replant again anyway.”
He goes on to add that carbon credits are a lucrative way for some people to get a good return on tricky terrain that makes it hard to get forestry equipment into or doesn’t produce quality timber.
“[It’s particularly useful] in areas where the cost of harvesting is such that you might not get a lot for the wood value of the trees.”
However, Gavin feels more needs to be done to reduce emissions, saying we’re not doing as much as other countries currently are. Data shows planting trees is only offsetting a small amount of the carbon we’re currently producing, and all the benefit forests do is counteracted by our continued bad emissions habits. He’s also concerned if everyone jumps on the reforestation wagon it could result in a country blanketed by trees... with no room leftover for anything else.
“Now you plant a tree, it grows for 50 years and stores plenty of carbon, but then you need to plant another tree. The conclusion is New Zealand gets covered in forest, which is not a particularly useful strategy, we end up full of trees with no value and we have no space left for meat or dairy.”
A North Canterbury agricultural Facebook group made a post on Carbon Credit Farming, and one commenter said it wasn’t long ago our ancestors came here and felled vast swaths of forest to raise animals, now that land is being converted back into forest.
On the matter of our eternal struggle with the rugged landscape we inhabit, perhaps it was best summed up in satire by the late comedian John Clarke in his Fred Dagg character on Country Calendar many years ago:
"About pastures you will find that most, ah... most animals eat grass... This is not very good pasture at all, because it's too damp! It's too wet for the animals to get their teeth round. This over here in the shallows is better pasture than this deep stuff, but basically they're both fairly bad and we try to keep the stock as far as possible onto the more green area."