WORDS: Joanna Grigg

It’s an opportunity, not a threat to farming, carbon forest consultant Ollie Belton says of the One Billion Trees Fund available through Forestry New Zealand.

“The grant rates are quite generous and you get to keep the carbon credits, even from pine forest after six years.”

The new fund has targeted grant rates to encourage specific types of planting; in particular indigenous planting grants of $4000/hectare, reversion to indigenous forest of $1000/ha and $1500/ha for Pinus radiata plantations. A top-up for erosion-prone land of another $500/ha can be applied for.

Grant payments will be staggered, not a lump sum. Belton says the staggered payments is a good idea. The 30% upfront will help planting costs, while the balance of 70%, subject to ongoing maintenance, means farmers have an incentive for the trees to thrive.

“It’s skin in the game for farmers and recognises growing trees is an ongoing process.”

Since the launch late November Belton has been busy responding to requests from clients to apply for grants. He has also delivered his take on the programme to farmer groups, including a Beef + Lamb New Zealand field day in North Canterbury attended by more than 100 farmers.

He says the 300ha maximum area means the grants are not about wholesale conversion of a farm to forestry plantation. Rather, it’s about helping reduce the financial risk associated with planting trees. Belton describes the indigenous planting grant of $4000/ha as being helpful rather than a full-fund of actual costs.

“To plant a mix of indigenous trees, excluding manuka or kanuka, it can range from 6000 to 130,000 a hectare.”

This grant will appeal to farmers looking to do riparian plantings, those with specific conservation planting plans underway or with specific biodiversity enhancement goals, he says. A top-up of $2000/ha may be granted for indigenous planting to achieve biodiversity and ecological outcomes, using more intensive planting, and/or higher levels of pest and weed control.

He sees the $1500/ha grant for radiata or other exotics as an opportunity for farmers to plant a mix of exotic hardwoods for high carbon sequestration rates. Poplars, eucalypts, redwoods or willows are all options, he says.

“I encourage farmers to think outside the box; try eucalypts for carbon and redwoods for longevity.

“These longer-lived species will sequester well into the future.

“Wide-spaced poplar trees at 100 stems per hectare can qualify for carbon production.”

An exotic hardwood forest block under 100ha (using the ETS Look-Up Tables for Post 1989 Forest) earns about 685 tonnes (T)/ha over 30 years. At $25/t this averages out at $570/ha/year. This type of forest may sequester carbon for 100 years, although at a slowing rate.

Belton has run the calculations on whether it is worth getting the $1500/ha grant for Pinus radiata and losing out on six years of carbon production, or not getting the grant and keeping the carbon. He calculates the grant option is slightly better than taking the carbon, at $25/t.

“I’m fairly confident that the averaging approach will replace the current carbon stock change methodology with the ETS review too.”

This means no more carbon liability at harvest, provided a forest is re-established.

Under the new grant scheme, the planting plan must not be a wilding risk, nor be pest or tree weed species identified in the regional council’s pest management plan or on the unwanted organisms register.

Land currently in the PFSI or ETS is not eligible for the new $1000/ha grant for reversion of land, as it is already considered to have forest on it.

“This is the most frequent question I get.”

The grant process considers reversion as when an area is allocated to revert back to its natural state, either by being left or through supplementary indigenous planting. For this, and for planting indigenous forest, landowners may be eligible for up to $500 per hectare for additional funding for the actual and reasonable fencing costs.

Belton says the definition of forest land will be one of the finer points his business will be exploring with MPI’s Forestry NZ. Some manuka or scrub species may not make the five-metre mark.

The grant application requires evidence that a planned tree planting or reversion is a suitable land use. For example, a farm environment plan, planting plan, or afforestation design plan (or similar) and/or evidence of council support for the application. A management plan is required for each tree species to be planted.

Top-up funding of $500/ha may be available for land in a region identified as being a high priority for regional development under the Provincial Growth Fund or land with high or very high erosion risk.

Belton suggests that if farmers want to plant this winter then time may be tight.

“An 18-month lead-in is best as securing labour for planting and the seedlings may be quite an issue.”

The forestry industry has retrenched in recent years due to ETS uncertainty and timber prices, he says, so expertise has left the industry.

“There will be a lot of new people jumping into the game without much experience.

“One forestry consultant I know is booked up for three years ahead.”

Costs have been increasing to reflect shortage of labour. Tree planting has gone from about $0.40/tree to $0.55/tree for Pinus radiata, he says.

Watch manuka eligibility

Some manuka plantations may not make five metres so can’t be classified as a forest. Cultivar selection is one fish hook Ollie Belton thinks farmers need to be aware of when planning a manuka plantation.

To earn carbon credits via the Emissions Trading Scheme, the tree height must make five metres under the current rules, he says.

Belton, a carbon consultant with Carbon Forest Services, says cultivar selection is typically focused on flowering ability for honey income, with bushiness favoured over height.

“Landowners just need to be aware when planning and budgeting on plantation income as to whether it will include carbon or not.

“You don’t want to claim carbon credits then have to pay them back if the forest is ineligible.”

He also is interested in clarifying the finer points as to the legality of landowners removing plantation manuka when mature. The Planted Indigenous Forest Certificate (Forest Regulations 2007) allows for harvesting of indigenous plantation forest provided it had certification prior to planting.

The purpose of a certificate issued under six is to provide evidence of the existence of a planted indigenous forest for the purpose of issuing a milling statement.

“My question is which indigenous species are considered to be milling timber?”

There needs clarification about the legality of replacement of mature manuka when past its best flowering ability, with new seedling manuka. This includes how it can be removed legally (eg: felled, sprayed, burnt), what happens to the established biodiversity within the plantation and whether underplanting or companion planting of other species at the time of planting is the best option.

“There are options to underplant or companion-plant manuka with podocarp.

“To get regeneration then wild foraging animals must be controlled, especially pigs and goats.”