Trees, agriculture and emissions trading

Scenarios by Narrative

Rod Safstrom, June 2009

These two stories were written to highlight the dilemma in farming landscapes when agriculture is displaced by tre plantations, The scenarios perhaps demonstrate that good planning can lead to great outcomes for agriculture, the land and the people.

Scenario 1

Hi, I am Peter, this is my town, rather it was my town, I am leaving.

I was on Council in 2010, representing my farming community. We had to make an amendment to our planning Strategy to accept or not accept whole farm tree plantations. We were torn. I was clear – when I look at my farm I have good, marginal and poor soils. Years ago I got smart and stopped cropping the poor soils, but I had no money to do anything about them. I wanted to be paid to plant them up but the carbon want big areas for efficiency, easier management and monitoring.

I held a community meeting. We were old farming families except for Ron and Bob who were managing properties for investors. It was heart wrenching – Jan and Bill’s sons an daughter were in the city with little interest in the farm and Bill’s leg made it hard for him to work, they were keen to sell and move to the city. This was the story for many – farming had been hard but good – now it was time to move on.

So I voted yes to tree farms, let the market sort it out. The government tree guy said it would be OK. Market forces would keep a balance between farming and trees.

We watched, my son, daughter and I. Neighbouring farms were bought, good prices, grain prices were good but we could not afford to expand. Carbon price was high and many properties went to perpetual plantations but some can be harvested. All the farming infrastructure was lost on the tree farms and lots of the houses, little product from the land and no jobs.

So here we are isolated. The town has died and the carbon market reduced as more efficient carbon technologies come in. My son and daughter have left already. I am going to the city.

Scenario 2

Hi, I am Wendy. It is 2030 and I live in this vibrant country town, its buzzing! It is amazing. I remember 20 years ago the big debate in town about trees for carbon. This was the big opportunity to get out of farming with a good price for the land – no more worrying about the seasons and prices. I could see a different view. My crystal ball saw a world in need of food and increasing food process. A world where travel was less as fuel became more expensive. I saw potential for bio-energy from tree plantations. We had been trying to revegetate for years, first the creek lines and then we fenced off the bush but we had lots of unproductive country. I had a vision of paddocks sheltered by trees – a different landscape, but a landscape singing with birds.

I lobbied. The Ag. Department guys had mapped the best soils so I stood on my soap box – called meetings. Golly the debates were heated. Farmers on the good country angry at my proposal to restrict the opportunity to sell the whole farm to the tree farmers.

But I got lots of support. A group of us got together to investigate a bio-energy plant and we formed an energy cooperative.

So the big vote on council. Four voted for the free market approach, open slather. Eight could see the vision we had of integrating trees and farms.

Then Joe had this idea that we could help the tree companies plant the marginal lands. So we did the leg work and put together across farm packages, including whole farms of poorer land. We even convinced the planning department to divide the poorer land from titles and combine adjacent blocks of poorer lands. This was then bought up or leased by the companies as the parcels were big enough and designed for efficiency.

Not many remember me in my soap box days! I am sitting on my verandah – well yes to count the birds – the country feels so healthy. I even saw a yellow robin last week, the first time since I was a kid. Now here come the grandkids wanting jam and cream.