$30m for Australian farmers with carbon benefits from trees

A $30 million federal government farm biodiversity programme that includes potential carbon benefits for tree planting has been backed by the forest industry and Labor Party. Under the $30 million pilot Agriculture Biodiversity Stewardship Program, farmers could receive incentives for projects that boost biodiversity and can absorb carbon.

Project examples include maintaining or enhancing remnant forest, regeneration of gullies or waterways, or mixed species native tree plantings.

Additionally, $4 million will go towards creating a national and internationally recognised biodiversity certification scheme that would help farmers receive an extra premium for their product at the checkout and when they trade with other countries.

The National Farmers Federation will help develop this certification scheme so that farm groups own it and invest in it.

The Minister for Agriculture, David Littleproud, said a market-based system that encouraged farm biodiversity could become a drought-proof income stream for farmers.

“This programme will be trailed across different commodities and in different regions and if successful, I hope it will be expanded as national policy following the trial,” he said.

Minister Littleproud said the pilot programme was not part of the Carbon Solutions Fund, where farmers were already making money from carbon payments.

“This is a dedicated trial aimed at biodiversity, although of course projects will likely have a carbon benefit also, which farmers deserve recognition for,” he said.

The policy was welcomed by Climate Proofing Australia, a conservation and industry alliance that includes the Australian Forest Products Association. Farmers for Climate Action, which is also a member, said the policy recognised that agriculture had an important role to play in Australia’s climate change mitigation strategy.

The chief executive, Verity Morgan-Schmidt, said the scheme was a positive step forward in ensuring farmers were recognised for the eco-system services they provide.

The Shadow Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Joel Fitzgibbon, said the Government had been silent for too long on providing incentives for best-practice land management, but the new programme appeared to have admirable objectives.

“Labor again urges the Government to support the abolition of the ‘Water Rule’ both for plantations and farm forestry in relation to forestry’s interaction with Carbon Farming Initiative methodologies,” he said. “initiatives designed to help farmers earn income from carbon sequestration and biodiversity-building farming methods should ideally be market-based.”

Mr Fitzgibbon said the programme should not be another National Party pork-barrelling exercise.

“Methodologies must be robust, additional and grant funding should be subject to a competitive tender arrangement rather than political whim,” he said.

NFF President Fiona Simson welcomes Federal Labor’s support for the concepts of the stewardship programme and sustainability certification. Bipartisan support for these important policy areas was critical.

“Mr Fitzgibbon says he believes market-based instruments should be developed in a robust and transparent manner, and we agree,” she said.