From Bloomberg – 19 August 2010 – Stuart Biggs reports: New Zealand’s sheep farmers are flocking to a government carbon trading program that pays more to plant trees than sell wool and mutton.

The system, begun in 2008 and the only one of its kind outside Europe, awards farmers credits that are sold to offset greenhouse gas emissions. The project may earn them about NZ$600 a hectare ($172 per acre) a year on land unprofitable for grazing animals, said David Evison, a senior lecturer at the University of Canterbury’s New Zealand School of Forest

Forests planted for carbon credits may increase to 30,000 hectares a year compared with 3,500 hectares in 2009, the government estimates. The system is a welcome alternative for sheep farmers who’ve struggled for decades from a combination of slumping wool prices, drought and competition for land from the dairy and lumber industries, says Neil Walker, a forester in the Taranaki region of New Zealand’s North Island.

“If you’re an industry in decline, you have to see what options are available,” said Walker, who also heads the Taranaki Regional Council’s policy and planning committee. “There’s an economic case to be made for converting hill- country sheep farms to forests.”

Sheep have been in decline for decades and have fallen in number from a 1982 peak of 70 million to about 40 million, official data show. Carbon trading is embraced by some farmers and rejected by others as too harsh a change for New Zealand, the world’s biggest sheep meat exporter last year.

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