Wholesale LUC carbon farming

Beef + Lamb New Zealand is working to raise awareness of the issue of wholesale land use change from sheep and beef farming to carbon farming that is incentivised by the Government.

This page sets out our position and there’s a list of our media releases at the bottom.

Our position is clear – we are not anti-forestry. 

A lot of farmers are looking to integrate trees on farms and that’s a good thing. Trees absorb carbon dioxide and it’s good for the climate and the environment to plant some forests in the right place. 

The problem

Our concern is unchecked carbon farming. The Government is economically incentivising wholesale land use change from pastoral-based farming into exotic trees – because the increasing price of carbon credits is distorting what land is worth and productive farmland is being sold for the future planting of trees – mainly exotic species such as pinus radiata. 

From a climate change policy perspective an increasing carbon price is not necessarily a bad thing as it should in theory lead to the actual reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel use across the economy as polluters seek to change their behaviour and invest in cleaner technologies. 

The big problem is that the Government has not set any target to reduce absolute emissions from fossil fuel use, nor has it set any limits on how much offsetting of emissions can happen through the Emissions Trading Scheme to meet our climate change targets, and therefore on how much land can be converted to forestry to create carbon credits for sale. 

This means fossil fuel polluters can keep avoiding the need to actually cut back on fossil fuel use and instead offset their pollution by using carbon credits generated on our farms through the wholesale planting of pine trees – a lot of which will likely never be harvested. Using forestry to offset fossil fuel emissions is a short-term fix for a long-term problem. 

The effects of carbon farming

Converting productive farmland to pine plantations for carbon credits means less jobs in that region – research by BakerAg in 2019 found forestry, and especially carbon farming, supports far fewer jobs than the red meat sector in that region. 

With those jobs will go local businesses, schools and services essential to rural communities.  

Wholesale land conversion will also impact on New Zealand’s economy. The red meat sector generates over $12 billion in income per year and we can’t afford to lose those earnings. 

A better solution

We believe much of New Zealand’s need for sequestration from forest offsets could come from the integration of trees on sheep and beef farms. This allows food production to continue, maintains rural employment and ensures export revenue, which is the underpinning of New Zealand’s wealth, can continue.

What we’ve been doing 

We’ve been actively working on this issue since early 2019. Initially our focus was on engagement with politicians to try to effect changes to the Emissions Trading Scheme, the primary legislation behind the issue. We argued (and continue to argue) that this legislation needs to contain limits on the amount of offsetting possible. New Zealand is one of only two countries internationally to allow 100 percent offsetting within its regulatory carbon market.

Frustratingly, our concerns weren’t addressed in the Climate Change Response (Emission Trading Reform) Amendment Act. We’ve repeatedly argued that the Government needed to get the primary legislation right, rather than trying to fix problems through secondary legislation such as the Resource Management Act. 

We’re not saying there should be zero offsets available, as carbon forestry has a role to play in helping New Zealand meet its net zero carbon emissions target by 2050. Farmers, especially, should absolutely be able to receive recognition for the significant plantings they undertake on their land – farmers can register eligible forests into the ETS and B+LNZ has worked hard to get a wider range of vegetation recognised for sequestration under He Waka Eke Noa.

We also acknowledge a range of policy responses may be required.

We continue to raise awareness about this issue and have repeatedly asked politicians to work with us on solutions. We’re also continuing to work with the Climate Change Commission. 

In August 2021 we released independent research by BakerAg that validated the amount of land-use change from pastoral farming to large-scale forestry. We released updated research in December 2021 and will continue to commission and release regular updates – see the links below.

We also co-funded, with Local Government New Zealand and 16 individual councils, work by former Hastings Mayor and MP Lawrence Yule to identify options for strategically managing planting trees and policy areas for urgent investigation to address the issue (see the 16 February 2022 media release below).

The Government has proposed some measures in response to concerns but none of these will effectively address the issue.

This continues to be a key area of focus for B+LNZ. We work with other industry groups such as Federated Farmers and DairyNZ to ensure we’re aligned. We also work with groups such as 50 Shades of Green – for example on the Kiwis Backing Farmers campaign, which prominently featured this issue (visit the website). 

Media releases

Notable media coverage includes:

Selected social media posts: