Carbon Farming – Beef + Lamb NZ Reacts

Beef + Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ) has cautiously welcomed Government signals that it is considering policy changes to address the wholesale conversion of sheep and beef farmland into carbon farming but is concerned the proposals likely won’t go far enough.

B+LNZ chief executive Sam McIvor noted that B+LNZ has been calling for action on this issue since early 2019.

“We have repeatedly raised concerns about the speed and scale of land-use change due to the unbridled ability of fossil fuel emitters to plant exotic trees on sheep and beef farmland for offsetting rather than reducing their emissions.

“We are pleased that the Government has listened to us, farmers and groups such as 50 Shades of Green, and acknowledged action is needed. The policy options Minister Nash has outlined are a good first step – however, we remain deeply concerned about the speed of policy changes and whether they will go far enough.

“We’ve been clear all along – the Government needs to change the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) as that is the legislation that’s causing the problem. Anything else is basically tinkering around the edges.”

McIvor added that the most recent independent research B+LNZ commissioned from Orme & Associates showed that the increasing carbon price is continuing to drive wholesale land-use change.

Analysis of farm sales for the first half of 2021 showed over 14,000 hectares of sheep and beef farmland were purchased with the intent of planting into trees and based on discussions with real estate agents, land sales across 2021 are expected to surpass those in 2019 (36,824 hectares) meaning the amount of exotic planting will again far exceed what the Climate Change Commission has projected as a sustainable amount (25,000 hectares per annum).

“Our rural communities, and New Zealand’s economy, simply can’t afford to lose productive sheep and beef farmland at this rate. We need urgent and effective action.”

The Minister has also indicated changes to the National Environmental Standards (NES) for Plantation Forestry to enable regional councils to determine where trees should be planted. B+LNZ is uncomfortable about local authorities making land-use decisions and argues that instead there should be limits on the amount of offsetting fossil fuel polluters can access. It notes that New Zealand is the only country in the world that allows 100 percent offsetting.

Also proposed is further research into the amount of carbon native vegetation sequesters – which B+LNZ strongly supports, as most research to date has looked at pine trees – and an examination of the Permanent Forest Category in the ETS – which B+LNZ says requires further detail.

McIvor said that it supports Minister Nash’s focus on the right tree in the right place, despite not agreeing with how to achieve this.

“We continually stress this point – we’re not anti-forestry. There are huge opportunities for the integration of trees of farms – exotic and native – as a much better solution, because farmers know their land best. This can achieve planting targets without gutting rural communities.”