Making farm forestry pay

Farm forestry services and their relationship to commodities and markets.

Farm forestry or agroforestry is one tool in a farmer's arsenal against dryland salinity or other forms of land degradation. Lisa Robins reports on research and publications supported by the Joint Venture Agroforestry Program (JVAP*) that are designed to help producers make decisions about agroforestry on their land.

North-south online farming systems workshops

CONTACT BETWEEN the CSIRO group in Toowoomba - involved in assessing the Farmscape tree project on the Brigalow Floodplain - and Birchip Cropping Group (BCG) was made late in 2000 by BCG consultant Harm van Rees, who knew of CSIRO's farming systems modelling experience and interest in working with farmer groups.

'Online workshops' with farmers from the BCG and researchers in Toowoomba or other Australian locations jointly investigate local grain farming systems with the aid of APSIM (Agricultural Production Systems Simulator).

Presently 30 farmers coordinated through the BCG are participating in a seasonal yield forecasting program (monthly updates) with CSIRO Toowoomba researchers for this current season.

THE DEVELOPMENT of profitable farm forestry systems for medium- to low-rainfall areas is critical to allow landholders to use trees to manage land degradation.

One of the major research efforts into mediumlow rainfall agroforestry is being managed by the Joint Venture Agroforestry Program (JVAP).

JVAP research manager Roslyn Prinsley said "the priority is in the low- to medium-rainfall zones because this is where the degradation is greatest and because the uptake of farm forestry has been slow in these areas.

"One reason for this slow uptake is the perception by fanners that trees do not pay," she said.

Carl Binning, author of Making Farm Forestry Pay and now Chief Executive of Greening Australia, acknowledges that "the income from trees for wood, stock shelter and crop protection may not balance the costs of farm forestry". That is why he has a passion for identifying "markets" that involve the additional environmental services provided by farm forestry.

The environment supplies important services like protecting soils from erosion, reducing groundwater leakage, providing habitat for wildlife and taking up carbon to address global warming. "Payment for these services could make the difference between an enterprise being profitable and unprofitable," Dr Binning said.

"We need farm forestry to be profitable for farmers to take it up on the sort of scale needed to address the degradation problems of the lowerrainfall zone."

Putting a $$ value on environmental services

Markets for the commodities provided by traditional agricultural and farm forestry services are well established, whereas environmental services are only potential commodities and markets at this stage, he said.

Making Farm Forestry Pay looks at why the existing incentives for farm forestry are not adequate, and how this can be changed. Examples of incentives include tradeable resource access rights, environmental taxes and subsidies, pennit trading, environmental accreditation, eco-Iabelling and performance bonds.

This work is supported by a review of several 'real life' environmental markets in the US and UK, reported in another JVAP publication, Emerging Markets for Envhvnmental Services. In the US, the Acid Rain Trading Program reduced industrial emission of sulphur dioxide by more than the target amount at less than one-half the expected cost.

The Chicago Board of Trade and a consulting company, Environmental Financial Products, are establishing a Climate Exchange for trading greenhouse gas emissions in seven states in the midwest of the USA. If this pilot program succeeds, it will establish a price for carbon, which has previously only been estimated.

Dr Prinsley said a tirst step towards establishing markets for environmental services in Australia will be to devise broadly accepted and legally defensible ways of measuring the environmental services provided by a particular farm forestry activity.

"But I remain very optimistic we will see trading in environmental services on a signiticant scale in the near future."

If you're interested in reading more, ask for Making Farm Forestry Pay - Markets for Ecosystem Services: A Scoping Study (RIRDC Publication No.02/005), or Emerging Markets for Environmental Services: Implications and Opportunities for Resource Management in Australia (RIRDC Publication No.011162).

Obtain RIRDC publications by phoning 02 6272 4819.

*JVAP partners - Rural Industries Research & Development Corporation (RIRDC), Land & Water Australia (LWA), Forest & Wood Products Research & Development Corporation (FWPRDC) and Murray-Darling Basin Commission (MDBC).

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