Landholders rush to establish carbon forests

Landholders spiralling interest in carbon forests has resulted in CO2 Australia investing an estimated $23.3 million in rural economies during 2011 and partnering with more than 300 farming families.

CO2 Australia land acquisition manager Mark Ritchie told The Fifth Estate the organisation secured revenue of $35 million for the financial year 2011 and manages a contract portfolio exceeding $160 million.

It expects a significant increase in interest by companies looking to manage their carbon liability.

It has 33 full time staff and has jobs in rural areas for contractors engaged in site preparation, planting and monitoring phases of the program.

Mr Ritchie said the carbon forest program was of interest to landholders not only for financial reasons but because the trees sheltered livestock, reduced waterlogging, salinity and wind erosion.

The number of landholders investigating carbon sink opportunities with CO2 Australia had  increased by 681 per cent since the introduction of the government’s carbon farming initiative  in August 2011.

“It is early days for the CFI and difficult to judge the size of the market however the potential is substantial given the new carbon tax, “ he said.  More companies will be looking at ways to hedge against the future cost of carbon emission permits. Carbon forests are a low-cost alternative for companies to offset their emissions, rather than pay a more expensive carbon tax.”

As landholders are paid on a per hectare rate for the land planted to trees, the money involved depended  on the market value of the property, he said.

Mr Ritchie said in a statement CO2 Australia-managed tree plantings have contributed enormously to livestock production including lambing.

“The shocks and stresses of the hot and cold weather to sheep and cattle can cause mortalities, but a farmer near Dubbo, NSW, was shearing his sheep when it was pretty cold in October and he didn’t lose any sheep due to the shelter provided by the trees,” Mr Ritchie said.

Most carbon sink plantings under CO2 Australia’s management consist of a small range of mallee tree species, another reason landholders have not been able to cash in on past tree plantings.

“The trade off for using the one variety is being able to consistently supply carbon to clients and mallee trees allows us with certainty to determine the amount of carbon to be sequestered,” Mr Ritchie said.

“Mallee trees have a long lifespan and are also fire tolerant. They will regrow after a fire, so any loss of carbon is temporary.

“We also need a species which can handle harsh climatic conditions and is drought tolerant.”

CO2 Australia has carbon sink sites in NSW, Victoria and Western Australia, and is also investigating opportunities in Queensland.

The minimum landholding set aside for a plantation is 50 hectares and the life of the agreement is usually 100 years, which gives certainty to the amount of carbon which will be sequestered from the trees.

The CFI allows landholders to participate in carbon reduction projects including planting trees, increasing soil carbon and reducing on-farm emissions.

CO2 Australia has been operating since 2004 and was the first organisation to achieve accreditation for reforestation projects under both the NSW Greenhouse Gas Reduction Scheme and the Federal Government’s former Greenhouse FriendlyProgram.

CO2 Australia has more than 22,000 hectares of carbon sink plantings (equating to more than 33 million trees) under its management.

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