New Zealand Carbon Farming

Opinion by Tony Orman

In April last year, I went trout fishing to a stream that is a tributary of the Wairau River.  It is also an important spawning stream for both brown trout and probably some salmon. It is also a habitat for native fish.

At the road bridge just above its confluence with its parent river, it was a mere trickle. A couple of kilometres upstream it was dry river bed, whereas in previous decades it always had a healthy year-round flow.

The reason was not hard to identify. 

There was once a fine trout fishing and trout spawning stream here

The catchment in the main is covered in maturing pine trees and as the trees grow, sucking more and more water out of the ecosystem. 

A study in 2005 showed “about 30% less water flowed from the mature pine plantation than the pasture.” Further information says each day a 12-inch plant will absorb nearly 120 gallons of water. There are also records that the average pine tree can absorb up to 150 gallons of water a day when there is unlimited water. 

Global Warming or as it’s now called Climate Change, is a major part of recent governments’ policies. 

New Zealand especially so.

In the lead-up to the 2017 election campaign, Labour leader Jacinda Ardern called climate change “my generation’s nuclear free moment”.

An Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) was the tool devised to combat the perceived global warming.

It was back in September 2008 New Zealand’s ETS was first legislated in the Climate Change Response (Emissions Trading) Amendment Act 2008 by the Fifth Labour Government of New Zealand led by Prime Minister Helen Clark. Labour was defeated at the election in late 2008. 

The ETS was then amended in November 2009 and in November 2012 by the Fifth National Government of New Zealand led by Prime Minister John Key.

The ETS under amendments then devolved (degenerated) into a free market trading system where carbon credits could be “wheeled and dealt” – in other words an arena for investing speculators, intent on maximum profits and dividends to share holders.

Environmental considerations like diminishing bio-diversity, wilding pines and depleted river and stream flows are not of concern.

Big business which admit carbon – a factor in climate change – can choose to reduce carbon emissions at source or they can offset those emissions by buying carbon credits.

The latter is their preference. That has led to the method of planting trees in large quantities, to act as a carbon sink.

Pine trees are the obvious answer from a speculator’s viewpoint, as they’re quick growing – compared to native trees – and quickly attain a height of five metres.  

Why five metres?

Therein lies the first hint of illogic.

Grossly Flawed

ETS’s basis is grossly flawed as “to qualify as forest land in the ETS, the trees in the forest must be species that can reach at least 5 metres in height.” That’s double the height of a standard ceiling.

Why five metres?

With native vegetation, some 70 species would be excluded from carbon sequestering assessments. Examples are the many species of coprosmas, hoheria, manuka, muehlenbecka, the several species of pittosporums and others.  

As such the basis for the ETS is grossly illogically and absurdly flawed. 

Despite asking in “letters to the editor” I have not been able to ascertain the reason for the illogical exclusion of vegetation under 5 metres in height. 

I did happen to ask a Ministry of Primary Industries person who told me it was “an international ruling.” 

What she meant was United Nations.

Even grass must have a carbon sequestering value?

Frequently farmers plant trees out of shelter or environmental or aesthetic motivation. But under 5 metres in height – they don’t count. Under the ETS, farmers are being unfairly lumbered with costly dire consequences. The dice is loaded by the impractical 5 metre height rule.

But even going back to the convenient new title of “climate change” there’s an obvious flaw in its assessment.

Climate change is constant, dynamic and cyclic – for example New Zealand’s once experienced ice ages. In Marlborough, probably some 15,000  years ago, the Wairau River’s upper and middle reaches were a glacier extending down to the Branch River confluence. As climate naturally warmed, the glacier retreated. 

Today no glacier exists in the Wairau watershed because of natural climate change and warming from an Ice Age.

The question is how does natural climate change relate to any human induced change?

Conveniently it seems ignored. 

Equation to Solve

Therefore the equation to be solved is Natural Climate Change plus or minus Human Induced Climate Change equals the  Actual Climate Change.

To return to “large scale exotic”, i.e. monocultures of pines. Pine monocultures are environmentally disastrous with an insatiable thirst for water depleting streams to dry beds, wilding pines spread, loss of bio-diversity and acidic runoff.

Wilding Pines growing in Marlborough’s Leatham valley on public lands. The Department of Conservation has shown no visible concern

The UK’s Trout and Salmon magazine said “conifers are highly efficient at taking and filtering acidity so that it flows through the soil and water beneath them. Thus acidic loading increases as the trees grow”.

Healthy freshwater ecosystems are usually associated with alkaline (pH) readings. The pH level (degree of acidity) is important to both bottom fauna and subsequently trout. If the pH drops below 5.5 (increased acidity) then long-term damage to the fishery, both native and trout, occurs.

Thirsty Pines

Then there is the insatiable thirst of pines for water. A pine tree is said to use 85 litres of water a day whereas a native tree, dependent on species, uses considerably less. Water from a pine forest with a “bare” pine needle forest floor has quicker runoff compared to a typical native forest area with shade-loving undergrowth. In a few words, native forest has a higher water retention factor leading to natural, more consistent stream flows.

Anecdotal evidence points to streams much reduced in flow once monocultures of pines have been established. For example, bach owners and residents in the Marlborough Sounds and the Northbank of Marlborough’s  Wairau Valley have observed the same diminished flow in creeks after extensive monocultures of pine forests are established.

But planting trees is the way to combat climate change and the free market ideological system of carbon trading is seen as the way of combating global warming. 

CAFCA to the Fore

Murray Horton of “Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa” (CAFCA) in it’s latest “Watchdog” publication, December 2022, writes “The preferred means  (for Big Businesses)—can offset those emissions by buying carbon credits — by planting trees – an awful lot of trees – to act as a carbon sink.”

“In 2018 the Labour-led coalition government introduced a special forestry test allowing overseas buyers to purchase sensitive farm land without having to prove it will benefit New Zealand – a requirement when buying sensitive land for other purposes. By the end of 2021 according to figures supplied by Radio NZ, 212,346 hectares had been sold to foreign buyers,” writes Murray Horton.

Austrian Countess

“An Austrian countess snapped up a sheep station near Masterton for carbon farming of conversion to pines. 

Swedish multinational furniture manufacturer IKEA secured a 5,500 hecate sheep and beef farm in the remote Catlins while German insurance giant Munich Re bought large parcels of land near Gisborne and in Southland.”

The fear is that the ETS won’t lead to actual emissions being reduced – that large emitters (polluters) will simply plant more trees to meet their ETS obligations instead of reducing their reliance on fossil fuels. 

Consequently some of New Zealand’s biggest emitters – Air NZ,Contact Energy, Genesis Energy and Z Energy- have formed a company called Dryland Carbon which plans too acquire 20,00 hectares to plant in forests over five years. In 2020 it got approval to plant a permanent pine forest of one million trees south of Gisborne.

The Overseas Investment Office has a foreign ownership threshold criteria of 24.9%, but Dryland Carbon’s foreign ownership is well above that with a foreign ownership factor of 35%.

Invariably carbon farming is being practised by foreign corporates.

And with carbon prices high, more and more speculative carbon farming is erasing valuable, productive sheep and beef farm lands. 

Foreign Ownership

Radio NZ in 2019 identified that the four largest private landowners in New Zealand are all foreign-owned forestry companies. 

“Despite a clampdown on some overseas investment, including a ban on residential sales to offshore buyers, the Labour-led government has actively encouraged further foreign purchases of land for forestry through a streamlined “special forestry test”.

Since the Labour coalition government was formed in 2017, the Overseas Investment Office (OIO) had approved more than $2.3 billion of forestry-related land sales – about 31,000 hectares of it previously in New Zealand hands.

Even further back the foreign ownership of the forestry sector was well underway. In 2010, Keith Woodford, Professor of Farm Management and Agribusiness at Lincoln University, wrote about 72 per cent of pine forests were foreign-owned, with United States companies owning about 35 per cent and Asian companies about 12 per cent. More recent data is incomplete but foreign ownership appears to have further increased, he added.

Figures in February 2022 from the Overseas Investment Office (OIO) show in the last three years 36,000 hectares of farmland has been approved for sale to overseas investors under the special forestry test. 

Then there is outdoor recreation. Invariably foreign investors erect locked gates and a refusal of access. That’s understandable since pine forests are potentially highly inflammable. 

What is at fault are successive governments and a failure to look after the public interest.


Further information refer to “North and South” magazine June 2022 https:northand

Tony Orman is an agricultural journalist and author, trout fisherman and  conservationist.

A stream bed, once with year-round full flow, now rendered dry in summer by pine trees in background

Tony Orman

Author, Journalist, Editor

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Tom Halla
December 24, 2022 6:11 pm

“Ecology” has been reduced to carbon farming? That seems like the impression I get of Jacinda Ardern from the US, a humorless scold of a leftist politician. She does look as if she were Kathy Hochul’s cousin.

Reply to  Tom Halla
December 25, 2022 9:29 am

A product of the WEFascists Hitler Youth scheme I believe, the same as our Indian Multi-millionare PM Sushi.

Reply to  gezza1298
December 25, 2022 2:35 pm

This is the facist , a sore loser in Arizona.

Martin C
Reply to  Duker
December 25, 2022 9:17 pm

Duker, you don’t know WTF you are talking about ( . . or maybe you are just purposefully acting like a leftist libtard just to get a ‘reaction’. Fine, so be it. ).

Living in Arizona, I am convinced a lot of ‘irregularities’ occurred from many articles I have seen (signature on mail-in ballots not matching, voter roll changing just before the election), as well as the ballot-reading issues on election day ( . .I know, you will say ‘show me the evidence’). Yes, at this time it would be hard to ‘prove in a court of law’. But that doesn’t mean it ISN’T happening. Kari Lake is trying to fight it, obviously with no success.
You can make some ‘smart comment’ back, and I may or may not see it tomorrow. But it wont’ change my opinion of you because of what you posted.

Reply to  Martin C
December 26, 2022 9:24 am

So you admit there is no evidence that would stand up in court, but you still believe Lake is somehow acting properly when she denies democracy. Interesting. I know, why don’t we just let anyone who doesn’t like a result just declare the other side cheated.

Tom Halla
Reply to  Simon
December 27, 2022 6:48 am

The judge in that case would find insufficient evidence, no matter how much evidence there was of buggering election day, i. e. Republican voters.

Reply to  Tom Halla
December 27, 2022 11:49 am

Here is what the judge said when he threw out Lake’s weak case….
The Court cannot accept speculation or conjecture in place of clear and convincing evidence,”
I’d say that is judge speak for WTF are you doing bringing this rubbish to court. How many cases is that now, that have been lost over mythical voter fraud? When will these clowns learn.

Reply to  Tom Halla
December 26, 2022 10:05 pm

What she looks like is irrelevant and pretty typical of the shallow comments she gets because she is a woman. She (like the previous two PM’s) has been a good solid leader. It’s why NZ is doing so well at the moment.

Tom Halla
Reply to  Simon
December 27, 2022 6:49 am

I would trash anyone who looked or acted like Gavin Newsom, as well. It is disliking pompous leftist fools, regardless of sex.

Reply to  Tom Halla
December 27, 2022 11:36 am

Adern is no fool. You don’t have to like her policies, but a fool she is not. You might know that if you looked past the surface.

Tom Halla
Reply to  Simon
December 27, 2022 11:49 am

They are the sort of politician that illustrates Dunning-Kruger syndrome

Reply to  Tom Halla
December 27, 2022 11:57 am

I see your messiah Trump just called a female reporter unattractive. I see where the right get this pathetic shallow tactic from.

John Hultquist
December 24, 2022 6:14 pm

 Another thing pine forests do is build fuel loads as they grow and shed needles and limbs. They also age and die. And burn.
Welcome to the real world.
Climate won’t care.

Reply to  John Hultquist
December 24, 2022 7:09 pm

The UN issued a directive that NO country should take action to reduce emissions that effect food production .
Our government here in New Zealand has been told this so I cannot see how they can justify letting foreigners buy up farmland to plant pines that will never be harvested .
This is a criminal act against humanity and a disaster for rural New Zealand.
Carbon farming will decimate many rural regions and as the pines age they will become fire hazards .
I heard a farm forester saying that there would be access tracks through the plantations .
Are the owners going to care after 30 years.
Rural firefighters are all volunteers and they should not have to risk their lives trying to stop fires in these fire traps .
We then look at the economics as it effects New Zealand .
Money will flow into to buy the land and plant the pines from overseas .Rates will be paid but they would be paid if the land was still producing food .
The carbon credits issued will flow overseas ,what a great way to bankrupt a country .
Our worst enemy could not have thought up a better way to stuff a country .
New Zealand will earn nothing off this land .
There will be no sheep and cattle so a lot less beef lamb and wool produced which means far less workers on farm and at the meat works ,ports and all service industries .
Communities will be wiped out with a rapidly reducing population in these areas .
Our government are that dumb that they are trying to bankrupt our country and the could not care less.
I would point out that in many areas of the South Island wilding pines have escaped onto conservation land and our conservation department have spent millions of dollars trying to control them .

Mike Maguire
Reply to  Graham
December 24, 2022 7:58 pm

“The UN issued a directive that NO country should take action to reduce emissions that effect food production”

Where did you dream that statement up from?

CO2 plays a key role in photosynthesis. Increasing it during the Industrial Revolution has clearly increased world food production by double digit gains based on almost every objective scientific study.

Use this source for honest CO2 science with regards to plants:

Nitrogen emissions are a greenhouse gas. They come from synthetic fertilizers manufactured using another greenhouse gas, natural gas. Almost half of the worlds population is being fed by food raised with synthetic fertilizers that cause eye popping yield gains.

Drop CO2 back down by 100 ppm and get rid of all synthetic fertilizers and half the world would starve.
Only rich people could afford to eat, with extreme rationing and prices going to unthinkable levels.

Only cut back partially…………same effect but not as many people starve and prices don’t have to go as high to ration lower supplies/production.

Screenshot 2022-12-24 at 21-48-08 How many people does synthetic fertilizer feed.png
Elliot W
Reply to  Mike Maguire
December 24, 2022 10:21 pm

I thought photosynthesis stopped at 150 ppm CO2? So plants, (most) animals, and people would all be dead at 100 ppm. Is this incorrect?

Reply to  Elliot W
December 25, 2022 1:22 am

Mike says …
Drop CO2 back down by 100 ppm not to 100 !

Reply to  Elliot W
December 25, 2022 1:47 am

Yes, more or less:
comment image

Reply to  Jit
December 25, 2022 2:12 am

Thank you for that chart . I have grandchildren going through primary and secondary schools , subject to much Govt propaganda, so I will circulate this to them to counter some of that propaganda and, hopefully, allay any anxieties that the screaming nonsense from the BBC et al has produced in them.

Reply to  mikewaite
December 25, 2022 7:59 pm

This is why the sheep farms are being sold for forestry, which is what they were before the land was cleared for grazing

$5 loss per sheep per year

Reply to  Mike Maguire
December 27, 2022 9:29 am

Mike ,
You questioned what I had written and if I had dreamed this up .
It is in the Paris agreement on climate change which states quite clearly .
Article 2
“Increasing the ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and foster resilience and low greenhouse gas emissions development in a manner
Check this yourself .
Yes 4 billion people rely on the food grown with artificial nitrogen fertilizer .
Higher CO2 levels grow more food but other nutrients are needed.
I cannot understand how Greenpeace and other groups want to ban nitrogen fertilizer which would lead to wide spread starvation on a scale far greater than other historical famines .

December 24, 2022 6:50 pm

We had a similar scenario in Western Australia. The pines were responsible for diminished water flow into the Gnangara Aquifer. It was decided to let the trees grow until they could be profitably harvested. They have now started removing them. I haven’t seen plans to restore the woodlands.

Reply to  leefor
December 24, 2022 7:10 pm
  1. Same in UK it started after the war with the forestry commission encouraging landowners into planting ghastly spruce forests via subsidies, and continues with the rewilding scam
Reply to  leefor
December 25, 2022 3:28 pm

I was proposing cutting the Gnangara pines in 2007 – see my blog.
Seawater desalination questions 7 August 2007

Reply to  wazz
December 25, 2022 6:00 pm

At the same time as the Gnangara pines growing they were talking about depletion of the Gnangara mound and climate change causing the drying of the Yanchep cave system. Well before 2007.

December 24, 2022 7:11 pm

My uncle planted a christmas tree farm on a swamp. Within a few years, no swamp – the land was dry. The pines sucked all the water out of the ground.

Now developers want to build on the old farm. The first stage will be knocking down the christmas trees.

Reply to  Eric Worrall
December 24, 2022 9:17 pm

My aunt decided to plant a Christmas tree farm around her 2 acre lake for tax purposes. The government gave her a writeoff while the trees were growing. I spent a summer planting the trees for her. It was a grid layout and closely spaced to maximize yield. A forester came out and recommended reducing the tree count. You’ll lose the lake he said. She ignored him and sure enough the lake was gone 5 years later.

Curious George
Reply to  Eric Worrall
December 25, 2022 8:54 am

I was taught that deforestation leads to a loss of creeks. Is there something special about pines?

Reply to  Curious George
December 25, 2022 6:01 pm

They are very water hungry.

Martin Brumby
December 24, 2022 7:47 pm

Interesting article.

Ironic that the NZ Government, so keen on anything (and anybody) “Native” should be encouraging non-native pine monoculture plantations. Amazing what the odd brown envelope can achieve.

In 2010, both the Labour and National party had been involved in the Pike River Mine development NW of Greymouth. There is a great book “Tragedy at Pike River” by a young investigating journalist (remember them?) Rebecca Macfie (from memory), which gives a great insight into how NOT to run a business and how NOT to design and develop a Coal Mine.

This was a private enterprise mine, but ‘de-regulation’ had, so far as the mining aspects were concerned, been taken to absurd levels, with one, fairly young and inexperienced Inspector of Mines being responsible for regulating all mining and quarrying operations in the whole of New Zealand. NOT a small country!

On the other hand, plenty of tree-hugger regulation, insisting on the smallest conceivable mine site. If the surface of the mine had been four times as large, it would have still been inconsequential in terms of the vast forested area.

So the genius designers sited the ventilation fan underground, in what would obviously be a ‘gassy” mine, emitting a lot of methane,

Even more genius, it wasn’t a ‘flameproof’ fan.

And the mandatory ‘second means of egress’, was a narrow mini shaft, hundreds of metres high which, in the event of an explosion, would be impossible to climb by anyone wearing a ‘self-rescuer’ (to convert Carbon Monoxide to CO2).

Many, many other schoolboy blunders in both design and management.

Daily reports of dangerous levels of CH4 just ignored.

29 men dead. No-one (I think) has yet gone to jail. And John Kay, as well as Helen Clarke and the Toothy Tyrant never held to account. Billions spent on trying to recover the bodies. A completely unnecessary tragedy.

Reply to  Martin Brumby
December 25, 2022 2:28 pm

Not billions spent . More like $30 mill.
However it became a cause celebre because the PM at the time Key, told the families privately ( but which an audio exists) that everything would be done to get the bodies out, in the meeting he tripled down on his promise . A few months later reneged and lied that he hadnt made such a strong commitment at all ( as policticians do but he was ex Wall St so was a nimble liar) The audio didnt appear till much later.

Philip CM
December 24, 2022 7:54 pm

I love meticulously thought out failure. I’d go so far to say it was ideal(ism).

Louis Hunt
December 24, 2022 9:48 pm

“…each day a 12-inch plant will absorb nearly 120 gallons of water.”

That’s got to be a misprint. How could a 12-inch plant (or even a 12-foot plant) absorb 120 gallons of water in one day? Where would it store it?

Reply to  Louis Hunt
December 25, 2022 12:05 am

It’s it clear from the text, but it means 12 inch in diameter. A pine typically drinks 10 gallons for every inch of diameter, assuming water isn’t restricted.

Most of the water doesn’t stay in the tree, but is transpired into the atmosphere. It floats away.

Reply to  Archer
December 25, 2022 2:22 pm

The areas being sold for carbon farming are generally very erosion prone drought affected hilly country that really shouldnt have been stripped of forest in the last 75 years. They are only marginally suitable for livestock farming , the sheep of course dont need a piped water supply like cattle who drink from troughs in each paddock . However the cost of shearing the wool every year exceeds what the farmers get at the wool auctions and unlikely to improve much

Reply to  Duker
December 27, 2022 10:32 am

Bull shit again Duker ,
Do you actually know any farm that has been sold for carbon farming .
Retiring farmers with out family who want to farm sell their farms for he highest offer that they can get .
Overseas investors have deep pockets and are buying up good farmland to plant in pines that will never be harvested .
If these untended pines are on steep country they tend to fall over as they grow and they will become extensive fire hazards .
This is absolute stupidity and is also quite unfair to farmers who have blocks of native bush (forest ) on their farms .
I have three blocks of original native bush fenced off and registered in the Queen Elizabeth Trust .I cannot earn any carbon credits on these areas because the rules say that they cannot measure the carbon sequested.
Yet the theory is that native trees will grow under the pines on the carbon farming blocks and some time in the future this land will be back into native forest .
A lot of farms were brought up 30 to 40 years ago to plant pines for timber and are now growing their second rotation .
The trees are milled and treated for construction timber in New Zealand for building but the majority of the trees are exported as logs to China and other Asian countries .

Louis Hunt
Reply to  Archer
December 26, 2022 5:12 am

Ah, thanks for the explanation. I was thinking of a 12-inch high plant. A 12-inch diameter tree makes more sense. But it’s still hard to imagine even a large tree absorbing more than two 50-gallon drums of water every day. It must transpire into the atmosphere very quickly. Then again, don’t pine trees have needles to conserve water and prevent it from transpiring as quickly?

Last edited 1 month ago by Louis Hunt
Dodgy Geezer
December 24, 2022 10:22 pm

The huge advantage of ‘mitigating climate change’ is that the techniques used are highly damaging to both the environment AND humanity.

This means that the undoubted misery that they cause can be used a a sign that climate change is real and that we must redouble our efforts to transfer money into the hands of the green blob….

December 24, 2022 11:56 pm

The only way plantations such as this to work as a carbon sink is to manage them as a commercial entity. That is to thin at 15 years then harvest at around 25 to 30 years then start again. The products produced would still remain a carbon sink while the new trees are growing.
To simply plant and lockup is lunacy.

Reply to  aussiecol
December 27, 2022 10:38 am

You nailed that assiecol .The lunatics are in charge here in New Zealand .
The Greens have a major influence in our government and they will wreck this country if they gain power in the next election .
Carbon farming is just a start .

December 25, 2022 9:30 am

What is at fault are successive governments and a failure to look after the public interest

Governments never intend to look after the public interest, only their own egos and bank balances.

William Capron
December 25, 2022 10:32 am

It appears that climate change science is totally committed to testing the bounds of the law of unintended consequences.

December 25, 2022 1:21 pm

The author really needs to look for something other than pine trees as the reason for his dry fishing stream. His premise is a very unlikely one….

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