Forestry Investments : New Zealand's pastures yield to ' carbon farming ' that can absorb emissions. New Zealand is returning pastureland to the forest.

Horehore Station, a sheep and cattle ranch, across 4,000 acres on New Zealand's North Island, its jagged expense of uneven hills and steep gullies blanketed in lush green glass.

It is 16 square kilometers of good, productive farmland, despite the rugged landscape. But it soon won't be a farm anymore. The land owner, John Hindrup bought it in 2013 for 1.8 million New Zealand dollars, sold it this year for 13 million, or $8.2 million. His windfall came courtesy of a newly lucrative industry in New Zealand :

Forestry investors will cover the property in trees, making money not from their timber, but from the carbon the trees will suck from the atmosphere.

So-called carbon farming has become a key element of New Zealand's drive to be carbon neutral by 2050. Under a market-based emissions trading program, companies in carbon intensive industries must buy credits to offset their emissions. Many of those credits are purchased from forest owners, and as the credits price has soared, forestry investors have sought to cash in by buying up ranches.

The emissions trading program is New Zealand's most powerful tool to reduce greenhouse gases. But the loss of ranch land to carbon farming could threaten one of its most iconic industries and change the look of idyllic rural areas.

Farmers and agriculture experts have voiced concerns that sheep and cattle ranching, a major employer in many communities and one of the country's top  exporting sectors, is bound for a significant decline.

''We're talking about a land-use transformation beyond anything that we have seen probably in the last 100 years,'' said Keith Woodford, an honorary professor of agriculture and food systems at Lincoln University in New Zealand who is also an industry consultant.

''It is a big change in the land use, and we just need to be sure that is what we want.''

The country's emissions trading program is the only one in the world that allows companies to offset 100 percent of their emissions through forestry. [The United States has regional carbon trading initiatives but no national program].

New Zealand has turned so heavily to carbon farming in part because it is not doing enough to reduce emissions.

While tiny on a global scale, New Zealand's emissions were still rising before the pandemic, and it is one of the largest carbon polluters among developed nations on a per capita basis. The agriculture sector is New Zealand's largest emitter of greenhouse gases, largely through methane released by animals.

Today's policy decisions, in response to the long road ahead in addressing climate change, are essentially locking in land-use for decades, Mr. Woodford said.

Permanent carbon forests must remain planted with trees, and timber forestry that earns carbon credits is required to replant trees after they are harvested-typically at Year 28-or face a financial penalty.

Already, the amount of ranch land sold to forestry interests has ballooned, with many of the sales to foreign buyers from places like Australia, Malaysia and the United States.

In 2017, beef and sheep farms sold their entirety for forestry totalled about 10,000 acres, according to a report commissioned by Beef + Lamb New Zealand, an industry group.

Two years later, the figure was 90,000 and while sales dipped early in the pandemic, they are expected to have risen in 2021.

The land sales have grown as the price of carbon credits has tripled in the last three years, reaching 80 New Zealand dollars. The increase reflects the imbalance between supply and demand in credits, as New Zealand's emissions remain heavy, as well as the influence of speculators who expect carbon credit prices to continue to rise as the country faces the need to further tighten climate policies to meet its pledges.

At current prices, credits can generate carbon farming revenue of more than 1,000 New Zealand dollars an acre annually compared with about 160 dollars for sheep and beef ranches.

The Publishing continues. The World Students Society thanks author Serna Solomon.


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