NZ Farmer - Planting trees on dairy farms not a simple solution to cutting carbon emissions

New Zealand is in the unique position of having 50 per cent of its carbon emissions coming from agriculture and that's because we have a low population and have positioned ourselves as food exporters feeding the rest of the world says Northland farmer, Lyn Webster.

This is an enviable position in my opinion.

Apparently for me to offset the carbon emissions from my farm I would have to plant 48 per cent of my property in trees.

If every farmer did that New Zealand would be well on the way to achieving their emission reduction target by 2030.

The reason I can't do that is because if 48 hectares of my 100ha farm was out in trees I would only be able to milk 104 cows.

While that would be lovely because it wouldbe less work, I could not pay the bills and I would be out of business. Unless the lovely public did not mind paying twice the price for dairy products?  Oh what's that I hear – you are not keen?

If the solution to us becoming carbon neutral lies in planting trees why are we not hearing political parties coming up with tree planting policies?

There are already plenty of mature trees on the farm I lease which I get no credit for.

They are there, soaking up carbon as are the pastures.

The whole crux of my job is pasture management, I am an expert at turning grass into milk, which is pretty cool because who wouldn't rather eat ice-cream and butter than eat grass?

So I rotate the right amount of cows around the farm at the right speed to allow the pastures to grow the right length before the cows turn up to eat it again.

I am sure that pasture must soak up a lot of carbon from the atmosphere too and I am not sure why I am not already credited for that. If the carbon soaked up by grass growing was accounted for in the Emissions Trading Scheme, imagine how good NZ would look then?

Grass absorbs carbon dioxide the same way trees do, but on a smaller scale. Through photosynthesis, each plant takes carbon from the atmosphere and uses it to build more plant matter.

Why farmers do not lobby to have this recognised in the political scheme of things environmental, I do not know.

Back to the 48ha of trees I can't grow. Why is there not a fund I can invest in to encourage other people to grow trees on my behalf? Even if it was voluntary, surely there would be plenty of support.

There must be land in New Zealand that is just sitting there where you could plant trees. DOC land? Maori land? Undeveloped back country land? The side of rivers and roads?

DairyNZ loves taking a huge levy off me every month which disappears into their coffers before I even get to see it. I probably would not notice if they took a little more and went and grew some trees on my behalf.

I'd do it myself but to be honest farming is taking up my life, but if trees gets New Zealand off the hook Kyoto-wise, I want someone to make it easy for me.

The actual emissions from New Zealand are so minute on a world scale that practically it doesn't even matter what we do, we are not a major contributor to climate change, but its not PC to say that, even when the world's superpowers are belching out emissions like there is no tomorrow.

Our agricultural emissions are more manageable than emissions from air travel, transport and manufacturing.