Tasmanian farmers join the push for carbon capture through ActivAcre program

Tasmanian farmers join the push for carbon capture through ActivAcre program

A Tasmanian agroforestry initiative aimed at utilising surplus farmland to expand Australia’s carbon capture capacity has been launched by a Sydney-based company that is about to be taken over by two Japanese industrial giants.

The ActivAcre program, backed by sustainable asset investment manager New Forests, is incentivising farmers to grow harvestable trees on unproductive land holdings in a move that is forecast to see an additional 15,000 hectares of trees planted on northern Tasmanian farms over the next five years.

The program is being managed by Tasmanian-owned plantation and natural assets management company SFM, which oversees more than 50,000 hectares of plantation resources across southern Australia.

The initiative is led by New Forests, which was established in 2005 and is now considered the world’s second-largest forestry investor with more than $7.7 billion in forestry, conservation and wood processing assets under management.

New Forests, a company that distinguishes itself from the likes of failed forestry investment groups Great Southern and Timbercorp through its ‘sustainable real assets’ model, is poised to be swallowed by Mitsui & Co and Nomura Holdings by the end of the year following a buyout announced in May.

Mitsui, an investor in New Forests since 2016, and Nomura are acquiring the group as part of a sustainability strategy to invest in companies at the forefront of climate change mitigation.

New Forests’ founder and CEO David Brand, a Canadian with more than 40 years’ experience in the forestry sector, is a former executive general manager of State Forests of NSW where he led pioneering transactions in the commercial development of environmental markets.

Brand says one of the one of the core objectives of the ActivAcre program is to partner with farmers and landowners so they can share in the rewards of decarbonising the economy.

“New Forests’ vision is to see investment in land use and forestry as key to the transition to a sustainable future, and we see programs like ActivAcre being an integral component of this,” he says.

Farmers participating in the ActivAcre program receive a pre-determined annual rental rerun for the use of their land for up to 30 years, after which the trees are harvested. Farmers can then opt to re-engage with the program for another term.

The benefits of tree planting on unproductive farmland detailed by ActivAcre include a reduction in salinity, water-logging and erosion issues, as well as the provision of stock shelter and improvements to soil quality.

Andrew Morgan, the managing director of ActivAcre management company SFM, estimates that up to 20 per cent of farmland in Tasmania is currently unproductive. He says the program has been created in collaboration with farmers to ensure that trees are suitably integrated within the agricultural landscape in a way that works for them.

“We need to consider ways to maximise the productivity of all land without negative environmental or social impacts,” says Morgan.

“This requires a level of flexibility that enables landowners to have trees in their landscape that won’t impact other farming pursuits. In fact, it will enhance them.

“With climate change and the growing future demand for timber in Australia, we need programs like this which are flexible in nature and strive to partner with landowners and the community – the right tree in the right place for the right reasons.”

Fourth-generation Tasmanian farmer Rob Tole (pictured), who is participating in the ActivAcre program, has planted more than 50ha of trees on his 560ha Greenvale property at Cressy, near Launceston. The property hosts about 12,000 grazing lambs and a range of crops including peas, beans and chicory seed.

“Our trees provide protection for our livestock which is particularly important during lambing and extreme weather events,” says Tole. “(The program) also turns unproductive ground, which was previously covered in weeds like gorse, into income-producing ground.”

New Forests developed the ActivAcre program over the past two years and chose northern Tasmania for the initial rollout due to its mixture of land classes and the suitability of rainfall.

Lease rates to farmers are based on the degree of carbon capture estimated to be achieved by the plantings.

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