Forestry and carbon credits: farm leaders press for clear plan to address climate impacts

The Government announced early in March that new proposals to better manage carbon farming could result in future permanent plantings of exotic forests – such as radiata pine – being excluded from the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).

Forestry Minister Stuart Nash and Climate Change Minister James Shaw at that time released a public discussion document to prompt feedback on ideas to better manage afforestation.

The Government wanted to encourage afforestation to help meet the country’s climate change targets, offset carbon emissions, and help farmers, landowners and investors diversify their income streams, Stuart Nash said.

From 2023, under current rules, a new permanent forest category of the ETS would allow both exotic and indigenous forests to be registered in the ETS and earn New Zealand Units (NZU).

Under the new proposal, exotic species would be excluded from the permanent forest category. Continue reading

Climate change incentive for farms to move outside agriculture

The agricultural sector will increasingly need to adopt new technologies and entrepreneurial flair to provide secondary income, along with more flexible land use to combat weather extremes such as floods and drought, according to new research.

An international study, including input from Flinders University in South Australia, considers the reliance of many countries on a narrow band of agricultural practices which exposes landowners and the economy to fluctuations controlled by weather, trade and other external or global factors.

The economic geography study just published in Regional Studies, Regional Science (Taylor and Francis Online) looks at OECD areas such as the Netherlands, which has great uniformity and varying diversification in its farming regions. Continue reading

Substituting animal products for insect protein to help save the planet

Replacing animal-source foods (ASFs) in European diets with novel or future foods (NFFs) — such as cultured milk, insect meal or mycoprotein —  could reduce global warming potential, water use and land use each by over 80%, according to the findings of a modelling study published in Nature Food.

Existing literature on alternative diets, such as vegetarian, vegan or flexitarian, has demonstrated the health and environmental benefits of shifting towards lower meat consumption.

But compared with currently available plant-based protein-rich (PBPR) options, such as legumes, pulses and grains, NFFs — produced through new technologies, such as cell-culturing technologies, or under novel regulatory frameworks — can contain a more complete array of essential nutrients. NFFs also tend to be more land- and water-efficient than existing ASFs.

Rachel Mazac and colleagues applied a linear programming model to identify optimal combinations of ASFs, PBPR options and NFFs with the goal of meeting nutritional adequacy, while minimising global warming potential, as well as water use and land use.

Feasible consumption constraints related to cultural acceptability were also considered, as well as scalability potential.

Overall, the authors found that substituting ASFs in European diets with NFFs (namely insect meal, cultured milk and microbial protein) could reduce all environmental impacts (global warming potential, water use and land use) by more than 80%, while being nutritionally adequate and meeting the constraints for what can be feasibly consumed.

The authors conclude that, besides showing the potential contribution of novel foods towards a more sustainable food system, these findings reveal synergies and trade-offs related to each dietary option within the European context.

Source:  Scimex

Relocating farmland could turn back clock 20 years on carbon emissions, scientists say

Scientists have produced a map showing where the world’s major food crops should be grown to maximise yield and minimise environmental impact. This would capture large amounts of carbon, increase biodiversity, and cut agricultural use of freshwater to zero.

The reimagined world map of agriculture includes large new farming areas for many major crops around the cornbelt in the mid-western US, and below the Sahara desert. Huge areas of farmland in Europe and India would be restored to natural habitat.

The redesign — assuming high-input, mechanised farming — would cut the carbon impact of global croplands by 71%, by allowing land to revert to its natural, forested state. This is the equivalent of capturing twenty years’ worth of our current net CO2 emissions. Trees capture carbon as they grow, and also enable more carbon to be captured by the soil than when crops are grown in it. Continue reading

Discussion paper outlines carbon farming threat to sheep and beef sector

A discussion paper released today calls for urgent national policy changes to ensure the increase in carbon farming to meet New Zealand’s climate change obligations does not come at the expense of the country’s rural communities.

The Green Paper by former Hastings Mayor and MP Lawrence Yule, titled Managing Forestry Land-Use Under the Influence of Carbon, calls for a more strategic approach to planting trees and outlines policy areas for urgent investigation to address the issue.

The paper has been released ahead of a workshop next month involving a range of key stakeholders including Forestry Minister Stuart Nash, councils, forestry interests, Beef + Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ) and Local Government New Zealand.

Mr Yule said the paper outlines the real risk that short-term land-use decisions will be made to the detriment of long-term land-use flexibility, rural communities and export returns. Continue reading

Research highlights the need for limits on forestry offsetting for fossil fuel emitters

New research confirms a significant amount of sheep and beef farmland has been converted to forestry, underlining the need for limits on carbon offsetting. It also undermines myths about trees going on ‘unproductive’ land and reinforces Beef + Lamb New Zealand’s view that the integration of forestry on farms is a better way of managing our landscapes and meeting climate change targets.

The study by BakerAg, commissioned by B+LNZ, reveals there has been a significant increase in the amount of farmland sold into forestry, driven in large part by an increase in the carbon price.

The report was unable to identify exactly how much of the sheep and beef farmland sold into forestry was intended for pure carbon farming but based on examination of the land titles, it is estimated that about 26,550 hectares of the 77,800 hectares of whole farms sold into forestry since 2017 were to carbon only entities (about 34 percent of the whole farm sales).

B+LNZ chief executive Sam McIvor said the report shows that in 2017, 3,965 hectares of whole sheep and beef farms were sold into forestry; this increased to 20,227 ha in 2018; 36,824 ha in 2019.

It declined to 16,764 hectares in 2020 (most likely as a result of COVID-19) but rural intelligence suggests it has regathered momentum this year and moved into new regions, threatening rural communities. Continue reading

Lifestyle blocks sprawling over highly productive farms

Hard on the heels of the publication of Our Land 2012, the Stats NZ/Ministry for the Environment report which explores land-use change and intensification in New Zealand, research by Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research on the sprawl of lifestyle blocks over highly productive farms has been published in the New Zealand Journal of Agricultural Research.

The study (not surprisingly) found demand for housing has grown so quickly over the last 20 years that urban development is starting to chew up New Zealand’s most productive land.

But a particular concern was the spread of lifestyle blocks:  the researchers say the most concerning threat is when large parcels of land are divided into small and medium lifestyle blocks, starting a chain reaction of urban development over productive farmland.

They say this could limit farming options for future generations.

The abstract says:

Land fragmentation is a growing issue in New Zealand, however, no consistent or regular national monitoring has been established. A methodology for assessing land fragmentation was applied nationally for the first time, revealing that the greatest proportion of fragmentation occurred on land used for diffuse rural residence (>0.40 to ≤2.0 ha) and small parcels (>2.0 to ≤8.0 ha) with a 128% and 73% increase, respectively, between 2002 and 2019.

In New Zealand, the most highly productive land (Land Use Capability (LUC) class 1, 2 and 3) is most impacted by continued fragmentation with 38%, 28% and 17% of baseline area, respectively, occupied by medium sized parcels or smaller (≤40.0 ha) with a dwelling in 2019.

Impacts were greatest for Auckland with 40%, 44% and 25% of the region’s LUC 1, 2 and 3 land, respectively, occupied by small sized parcels or smaller with a dwelling, increasing to 64%, 67% and 47%, respectively, when including parcels ≤ 40.0 ha. Protection of LUC class 1 and 2 land, particularly, requires national attention.

This metric provides an opportunity to evaluate land fragmentation and development over time that could serve both the assessment of policy performance and environmental reporting at national and regional levels.

The research was funded by the Ministry for the Environment and Statistics New Zealand.

It was also supported by Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research’s Strategic Science Investment Funding from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s Science and Innovation Group.

Link to research (DOI): 10.1080/00288233.2021.1918185

Source:  Sci-Mex

New report shows impact of demands on land in New Zealand

The land cover data in an environmental report published today, Our land 2021, provides the most up-to-date estimates of New Zealand’s land cover and associated land use and changes.

Released by the Ministry for the Environment and Stats NZ, the report presents new data on the country’s land cover, soil quality and land fragmentation.

Our land 2021 continues the second cycle of environmental reporting by Stats NZ and the Ministry for the Environment.

It updates Our land 2018 and the second theme ‘How we use our land’ from Environment Aotearoa 2019, which was the most recent report on the state of the environment as a whole.

Overseas markets are a significant driver of land use, and with global populations projected to reach 10.9 billion by 2100, market-based pressures on land are set to increase.

Most of our agriculture and forestry products are exported and these activities currently cover about half our land area, the report says.

While urban land cover continues to make up 1% of total land area in New Zealand, urban and residential expansion is outwards onto productive land, which creates tension between the use of land for housing and land for agriculture.

This results in a complex trade-off, because using land that is not highly productive for food growing results in lower yields unless more intensive land management approaches are used. Intensive land management brings with it the risks of degrading the quality and health of the soil and the wider environment. Continue reading

A billion trees and the issue of how best to use the land

Because of Covid-19, the NZIAHS cancelled the Political Forum at Lincoln University early this month.  Key politicians had been invited to the forum to inform our members of their party policies relevant to our science and to be questioned. 

Instead, we put three questions to the politicians for written replies for publication before the general election next month. 

Here’s the third of the three questions and the responses we received.

  • Do you think the Billion Trees initiative is appropriate in the context of valuable class 5 and 6 land being planted in exotic plantations and the on-going issue with accumulation of forestry slash on the beaches of the East Coast?  

Damien O’Connor, Labour Party

While we will continue to plant the right tree in the right place to meet our climate change challenges, our food producing soil will be our number one priority.

Within the first six months of Government (subject to a second term) we will revise the National Environment Standards for Plantation Forestry to enable councils to once again determine what classes of land can be used for plantation and carbon forests. Resource consent would be required for plantation or carbon forests on land use capability classes 1-5 often known as elite soils, above a threshold of 50 hectares per farm to allow farmers flexibility in creating small plantations to support environmental goals.

Continue reading

Replacing the RMA with two new pieces of legislation – experts comment on review panel’s proposals

The Government has welcomed the most comprehensive review of New Zealand’s resource management system since the Resource Management Act (RMA) was passed in 1991. The findings and recommendations – set out in a report titled New Directions for Resource Management in New Zealand – were prepared by an independent review panel led by retired Court of Appeal Judge Tony Randerson QC.

The panel has recommended the replacement of the existing RMA by two separate pieces of legislation – a Natural and Built Environments Act and a Strategic Planning Act.

It will be up to the next Government to consider the report and decide whether to implement some or all of the recommendations. Environment Minister David Parker said he expected political parties would develop their policies for the upcoming general election campaign in light of the report’s findings.

The review panel said the proposed new Natural and Built Environments Act (NBEA), taking a substantially different approach from the RMA, would focus on enhancing the quality of the environment, housing and achieving positive outcomes to support the wellbeing of present and future generations. Continue reading