Nurse crops for unproductive farmland promoted

Friday 20 Nov 2020

 
A specialist forestry consultant believes New Zealand can meet its international commitments to reduce carbon emissions without sacrificing productive farmland. In a report to the Climate Change Commission, Rotorua-based Jeff Tombleson calls for a Government grant to farmers with suitable sites to establish ‘nurse crops’ of radiata pine which will eventually transition to native forests.

Jeff says a “stand-off” currently exists between farming and the Government’s need to encourage the establishment of up to 2.8m ha of radiata pine on farms in the next 30 years. Under the Paris Agreement, New Zealand is committed to achieve net carbon zero emissions by 2050.

With “no show in hell” of satisfactorily reducing gross emissions Jeff says the only way is not to create new timber production forests but “permanent forests”. Under the Paris rules only plantations established on new land qualify for carbon credits, so farm forestry is the only option.” Such plantations would be established in the hinterland on properties within sight of native forests to enable birds to naturally “seed-in” native species.

“These areas could include steep hillsides and gully systems with very low agricultural production capacity.” Jeff says many sheep and beef farms in the Bay of Plenty and Waikato are “just kilometres” from native forests. “There is no natural re-generation of radiata pine.”

In his proposal, Jeff says 100,000ha would need to be converted annually. “There is no Plan B.” Jeff says radiata pine grows quickly and rapidly stores considerable quantities of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. “Around 12,000 growers mainly farmers commenced the planting boom in the 1990s that now contributes to lowering NZs emissions by 30%. Farmers are again the solution to make the largest contribution to achieving NZs 2030 and 2050 emission reduction targets,” he says. “They need to again positively embrace the opportunity.”

Permanent forests via nurse crops of radiata pine for the long-term transition to native forests are “the right tree in the right place” and avoids the “short term opportunistic approach” of converting whole farms to forests. Through “natural attrition” over 200-300 years, he says the radiata pine would naturally collapse and the native trees prevail and provide permanent forest cover.

“Natives come by default.” He says the plantations could be registered under the Emissions Trading Scheme to claim the carbon that is being stored in this wood for as long as the ETS exists. Based on the current carbon price of $35 per tonne, Jeff says such plantations would produce annual incomes of more than $900 per hectare or the equivalent of $28,000 per hectare over just a 30-year period.

“This approach to creating a long-term permanent carbon sink ticks all the boxes and avoids the short-term thinking of converting farms to forests, particularly in districts where the returns from timber production are poor.” It also halves the forest area required nationally for NZ to achieve net carbon zero 2050.

Jeff recommends an “encouragement grant” of $2000 per hectare. “This is a ’small cost‘ compared to the estimated $14 billion required to buy international credits to meet NZs anticipated 2030 emissions reduction target shortfall and would achieve NZs net carbon zero well prior to 2050.”

Jeff says feedback from farmers indicates there would be a “stampede” for the adoption of permanent forests via a Government subsidy if introduced. If adopted, Jeff says the programme could start in 2022 and run through until 2035.

“Jeff strongly believes farmers are again the solution to instigate “round two” of the heavy lifting to achieve the required carbon offset and net carbon zero 2050 - and as such need to be positively engaged and rewarded”.

Source: Coast & Country November 2020

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