New report confirms land-use change to carbon farming

// Climate Change

B+LNZ recently released the latest analysis of farm sales data confirming the increasing price of carbon in the ETS is driving the conversion of whole pastoral farms into forestry, particularly for carbon farming – further underlining the need for urgent Government action.

The latest analysis of data on farm sales for conversion to forestry shows the increasing carbon price is continuing to drive wholesale land-use change, particularly for carbon farming. This underlines the need for urgent Government action and amplifies the growing chorus of voices concerned about this issue.

In mid-December we released independent analysis of farm sales for the first half of 2021, undertaken by Orme & Associates, which showed over 14,000 hectares of sheep and beef farmland were purchased with the intent of planting into trees. This data is provisional and is expected to be higher, given there is a long lag in farm sales being formalised and more sales are likely to have occurred in this period but have not yet been formally reported. 

Additionally, a further 8,800 hectares of sheep and beef farm sales in 2020 were formally finalised since B+LNZ’s previous report in August, meaning the revised amount of farmland purchased for exotic forestry in 2020 totalled 24,864 hectares, despite COVID-19 affecting sales. 

B+LNZ chief executive Sam McIvor says B+LNZ has been calling for changes to the Emissions Trading Scheme for some time and there are growing concerns about the unbridled ability of fossil fuel emitters to offset their greenhouse gas emissions by planting trees on productive sheep and beef farms. 

“We’re extremely concerned the sale of sheep and beef farms into forestry will only accelerate as the carbon price increases. 

“These policy settings are estimated to have helped drive the loss of around 800,000 stock units and there are also worrying signs that carbon farming interests are spreading into new areas and onto more productive land.

“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 – that is, 25,000 hectares – per annum.”

The latest report has been covered by media in Gisborne and the Wairarapa, two areas where concerns about wholesale conversion are particularly keenly felt, and in Otago which was identified in the report as an area where clusters of sales are starting to emerge. 

The report will no doubt continue to be referenced and used, as our first report released in August has been, by many other outlets and groups. There are growing calls for the Government to act urgently – groups such as 50 Shades of Green have been doing an amazing job keeping this issue in the public eye for some time and new voices such as the Native Forest Coalition have emerged, supported by the likes of Fish & Game NZ. 

You may also have seen a recent article in Country-Wide magazine outlining the growing concerns, where Minister for Primary Industries Damien O’Connor’s response was that the forest estate is about 70,000 hectares smaller than it was in 2000, and that most ETS-registered forestry was primarily on Land Use Classification (LUC) classes 6,7 and 8. We’re concerned about the way his office is selectively using data to misrepresent what’s happening and will be raising this with the Minister. 

We frequently hear from many farmers and others related to our sector, such as vets, who are deeply concerned about the loss of sheep and beef farmland for carbon farming and the effects on rural communities. We’re working hard to put pressure on the Government, and we encourage you to contact your local MP about this issue. 

In terms of solutions, B+LNZ is co-funding and working with a group of 14 local councils and Local Government New Zealand to identify potential policy responses. We’re hoping an initial report will be released in the next few weeks. 

Sam says regardless of the policy changes, a better overall approach is clear. “There’s a much better way to increase planting to improve environmental outcomes and that’s the integration of trees on farms. Farmers know their land best.

“We’re not anti-forestry – exotic planting can be integrated where appropriate – but it’s about planting the right tree in the right place.

“We need the Government to listen – and to act, before too much more damage is done to rural communities and to New Zealand’s economy.”