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Account for on-farm offsets

Farmers are ready to do their bit for climate but it has to be fair, Gisborne livestock farmer Henry Gaddum says.

He farms 760 hectares of land in Matawai, of which 600ha is active grassland where sheep, cows and deer are raised. The rest is scrub and bush that has been naturally regenerating, with new areas planted annually.

“If farm emissions pricing is going to be a thing, then it is critical to have on-farm sequestration taken into account alongside emissions,” Mr Gaddum said.

He is planting and regenerating a part of the land to make it more sustainable, even though small native areas can not currently be used to offset farm emissions such as methane.

“There’s a worry that the He Waka Eke Noa scheme will ignore carbon sinks like this and just concentrate on emissions,” he said.

“If they take into account small-block native forestry and individual trees and the like, they will need good data to support it. The last thing we need is farmers being accused of greenwashing.”

He Waka Eke Noa is a partnership between primary sector groups including Beef and Lamb New Zealand, Federated Farmers, Meat Industry Association, and the Ministry for Primary Industries.

The scheme aims to identify how to measure emissions on farms and find solutions to reduce it.

Even though the scheme was a five-year plan, Mr Gaddum said the plan would be reviewed in March next year to see what progress had been made.

“What I have seen and heard in the last few days is that the sector groups are struggling to find common ground. It seems the Government will soon pull the plug and put farming in the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS),” he said.

“I’m concerned He Waka Eke Noa are going to do something half-baked that will set farmers back.”

Federated Farmers New Zealand, an advocacy group for farmers and rural communities, has opposed the inclusion of farming into the ETS.

“An average farm emitting one-and-a-half to two tonnes per hectare (going off the B+LNZ calculator) could be up for $50,000 to $70,000, although we don’t know how much of that farmers will have to pay,” Mr Gaddum said.

“What this amounts to is unknown and the cost could still become very big as the carbon price looks set to double in the near future.”

While income comes from selling livestock and their by-products, there are significant costs spent on farm expenditure.

If a farm earns $1200 per hectare, about $600 would be spent on farm expenses such as animal health, fencing, repairing tracks and wages.

“Pretty much 50 percent goes on the cost and that’s before interest (for the banks). So it’s a tight bill,” he said.

To include farming in the ETS would mean another tax on top of other costs.

“I am definitely not saying farmers should do nothing, but a lot of farmers may not be able to handle it if it is dumped on them now without the proper science. It will affect their mental health and cause business failures,” he said.

Mr Gaddum said there were a number of farmers who were retiring and many were so sick of it that they had put their farms on the market.

If farmers did not care about the environment, they could always plant pines and make money, he said.

“I could, for instance, plant a third of my farm with pines and make money from it. But when those exotics die after 100 years, what’s the next generation going to have? How are they going to deal with this mess they can’t use?”

The people investing in exotic forestry did not care about social and environmental concerns and they were taking advantage of the carbon market as it wa legal, Mr Gaddum said.

“The scary thing is how quick carbon prices are rising and farms are getting sold. Farmers can’t even compete with commercial forestry on the carbon side.”

Mr Gaddum likened the current situation to when Cyclone Bola hit the East Coast in 1988 and decimated a lot of farmland.

The Government then instructed farmers up the Coast to plant pine trees, without thinking of the impact it would have in the future.

Once flourishing regions were reduced to ghost towns. There was a mass exodus of people as there were no usable farms or jobs, he said.

“Instead of selling our farms to monoculture over a tree that is going to stop growing at 100 years old and then become a huge fire risk, I think the Government needs to wake up and see the positive impacts of our native bush,” Mr Gaddum said.

The BDO report on the impacts of carbon farming in Tairawhiti released last month could be used to get the whole community on board and educated on carbon farming, Mr Gaddum said.

“It is massively important to get people up to speed about what is happening.”

Back on the 160 hectares of farm land not used for raising livestock, Mr Gaddum is growing native trees.

“I’m trying to farm in a way that is fully sustainable to the environment by giving back rather than taking,” he said.

While the future looked good, a few things needed to be reviewed, Mr Gaddum said.

“This includes the mad carbon ETS that needs to be figured out properly and fixed before it is too late.”

CARING FOR THE FUTURE: Henry Gaddum is planting natives on his 160 hectares of Matawai farmland that is not currently used for raising livestock, so the next generation can harvest them. Picture supplied