Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Farming to create fresh air

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When people think of farming, few think of carbon farming. But Canterbury farmers Warrick and CeCe James are using agriculture to feed people and fight climate change. Luke Chivers spoke to them on-farm.
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Imagine carbon emissions and what springs to mind? 

Most people tend to think of power stations belching out clouds of carbon dioxide or queues of vehicles burning up fossil fuels as they crawl, bumper-to-bumper along congested urban roads. 

But in Canterbury’s picturesque Selwyn Gorge the owners of a forest of 18-year-old pine and Douglas fir trees are confident that at harvest age the trees will still be worth more alive than dead and will continue to be indefinitely.

This is the world of carbon farming – growing trees for carbon credits.

“I’ve always thought of myself as a sheep and beef farmer,” 56-year-old Warrick James says.

“I never thought that I’d end up removing CO2 from the atmosphere and storing it in a forest,” he laughs.

Warrick and his wife CeCe grew up in rural New Zealand and have long lived with the ethos of giving back.

“We were raised to believe that you’ve got to do something for the betterment of your region.

“It’s a feel-good business we’re in. 

“It’s good for the environment and we’re lucky enough to be earning income from it, too,” CeCe says. 

The beauty of carbon forestry farming is it is actually very simple, Warrick says.

“I’ve farmed livestock all my life and you’re vaccinating, drenching and dagging sheep and also getting booted around in the cattle yards. But carbon forestry is a very passive form of farming, really.”

There’s an old saying, ‘Farmers buy retail, sell wholesale and pay the freight both ways.’

“Well, it doesn’t apply with carbon forestry farming because there is no freight and the expenses are very minimal,” he says. 

“Our product is just a phone call to our carbon broker and technical advisor Ollie Belton, our consultant’s son, who has an emitter who needs to buy the product.” 

And once established, the trees require very little maintenance. 

“You can buy blocks in different parts of the country and develop them without having to worry about labour and the day-to-day management of them.”

On the other hand, it’s another good form of future succession and retirement. 

“We’ve got different blocks and trees. We’ve got a farming operation. We can split that up for our children and when we need to retire we’ll have a passive form of income as well.”

Warrick says carbon forestry offers huge opportunities, especially on hill country properties.

“There are always areas on your farm that are probably better suited to trees than pastoral farming.

“I’m not an advocate for putting them on your best land but, instead, on land that you believe isn’t producing wealth from other forms of farming.

“We’ve got to be careful because, while we’re passionate about reducing our carbon footprint, when you plant trees in the ground there’s no going back from that. 

“Even if we were to cut them down, you have to replant. So, yes, we’re cautious but I think it’s another good option for farmers. It’s another form of income and it’s good land use on marginal areas.”

It is all about thinking ahead, CeCe says. 

“None of us know what’s around the corner. 

“We certainly didn’t know 20 years ago that we’d be farming trees.”

But one thing the couple do know is that climate change is a major issue of our time.

“Climate change’s is something we’ve believed in for many years, even before we got involved with this property. It’s a major issue of our time and our generation,” she says.

“We all need to do our bit to help solve the problem, not just us farmers but the wider public too. Everyone has got to do something. 

“We’re really proud to be part of the solution, even if it is in the big scheme of things only a small part.”

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