Land Sector Package

Bringing the forest back to the farm

Biodiversity Fund Case Study

Location: Subtropical region adjacent to Border Ranges and Great East Ranges, Queensland
Funding: $2,237,000 (excluding GST)
Partners: Subtropical Farm Forestry Association, Water and Carbon Group, Southern Cross University

Farmers in subtropical Queensland are testing a new business model for revegetating large parts of their land that are otherwise unused, creating biodiversity enhancements as well as a sustainable revenue stream through carbon credits.

The Subtropical Farm Forestry Association helps farmers and landholders plan, design and implement forestry projects on their properties. Martin Novak, the Association's President, says its members saw an opportunity to do something with large amounts of weed-impacted land that couldn't be utilised for agriculture.

"Most of them would like to see it revegetated and brought back to its original condition," he says. "It's often too steep to farm efficiently."

The Biodiversity Fund gave the group an opportunity to test a new model for farm forestry, where the funding would pay to enhance the land's biodiversity value and the resulting carbon credits could diversify income for landholders.

"We've managed similar projects before but without a carbon component," says Martin. "Farm forestry design can always enhance existing farm production through better soil stability, improved water values, shelter for stock and so on. With an additional income from carbon credits, I believe this should drive a lot of revegetation in the area."

Planting a tree At Wrights farm Inspecting the land
The team has already committed to working with 120 landholders

Combining scientific assessment with commercial outcomes

The project initially targets 600 hectares with buffers of weed management around that area. The team has already committed to working with 120 landholders. Activities include workshops, field days and carbon forest plantings over the five year project period.

The School of Environmental Science and Management at Southern Cross University will provide specialists and PhD students to carry out initial assessments and monitoring. Water and Carbon Group is partnering with the project to negotiate carbon agreements with landholders.

"Our role is to select the properties and landholders and initially assess the site for regeneration and carbon forestry," explains Martin. "The University team will help us to assess these sites and identify any risks, such as pest plants and animals."

Once the site is deemed suitable, Water and Carbon Group can discuss options with landholders, including land leasing or the purchase of carbon credits. It will then manage the sale of all carbon credits to companies such as Shell, with whom they already have an agreement in place.

"Using the University gives us an independent assessment," says Martin. "They will also carry out benchmarking of forestry values and ongoing monitoring of biodiversity."

Contractors may be engaged for the work or the farmers may choose to do it themselves. Planting and weed management will be carried out progressively, based on climate conditions. "We intend to do 50 hectares in the first year and increase to 100 or more per year over the next four years."

Remnant and other native species will be planted to attract native fauna. "The environmental impacts will be quite significant," says Martin. "The forestry design will also enhance local farm production, reducing stress on horticulture by creating buffers, and building shelter blocks for cattle.

Years of constant wet weather may be a challenge, but as the project runs over five years, Martin believes any associated risks will be manageable.

Maintaining flexible contractual agreements with landholders is also important. "If the carbon credits lose value or the lease payments don't meet the carbon price, the farmer can always buy it back," says Martin.

The team will run at least 10 workshops over the project period to demonstrate benefits to landholders and local employment benefits for the rural community.

Working together to plant trees Inspecting the new growth Treeline at Wrights farm
Farmers in subtropical Queensland are testing a new business model for revegetating large parts of their land that are otherwise unused

Testing a new commercial model

"I believe there's nothing like this model in Australia on this scale, that is supported with government funding," says Martin.

He already has a great deal of interest from landholders. "We talked to landholders when we first developed the concept and could see that this was a new way to go about it, made possible by the Carbon Farming Initiative and the Biodiversity Fund."

Water Carbon Group see this as a pilot program with great potential to expand. Their corporate clients are also keen to be involved on a larger scale.

"I think this could also be a model for other countries with major deforestation problems, including South-east Asia," says Martin. "If they can receive an income from carbon for those areas, there won't be such a need to exploit the watersheds or national parks."

This project has been made possible with support from the Biodiversity Fund, as landholders wouldn't ordinarily be able to fund this sort of work. "In this case the government is paying for the biodiversity value of the work. So the commercial benefits will come from the carbon credits and the biodiversity and environmental benefits will come from government funding."