Dani Darke is on a crusade to find a 'win-win' solution for corporate organisations wanting carbon credits and farmers wanting more native trees on their properties – one that doesn't come at the cost of rural communities.
In a Facebook post on Sunday morning, the King Country farmer offered up 10ha of farmland for the likes of Air New Zealand, Genesis Energy, Contact Energy or Z Energy to plant native trees. In exchange for paying fencing and planting costs, Dani proposed that the company would, in turn, receive the carbon credits to offset their emissions.
"What we're worried about at the moment is … companies buying up large amounts of sheep and beef land, then blanket planting it in pine trees," she told The Country's Rowena Duncum.
"We're really worried about our rural communities."
Darke believes there's a better way to do things than the current situation, which has seen Federated Farmers claim more than 70,000Ha of productive farmland has been converted into forestry since 2019. Minister for Agriculture Damien O'Connor countered this last week, telling Parliament's Primary Production Select Committee that figure is closer to 22,000Ha.
"We've got back paddocks, gullies, shelter belts and waterways that need trees. Every farmer I know of wants more trees on their farm. So, I'm saying…there's 10 hectares there – we'll retain the ownership, you guys can fence it off, plant the trees, collect the carbon credits and we can come up with something that's a win-win solution for everyone."
Darke said part of the problem lay with the way the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) has been set up, whereby there is no incentive for a reduction in emissions.
"So, they're really focused in offsetting. They can offset 100 per cent of their emissions. To me, it's just flawed. It feels like [the Government are looking for] an easy solution to a really hard problem."
While Darke is not certain of the legal feasibility of her proposal, it's something she intends to further investigate in the coming days.
"I think it's something we need to work through and there's a whole lot of different ways of looking at this; but I see it [as] a better solution to blanket planting of pine trees.
"We can ensure, as farmers that we put the tree in the right place, and it's the right tree for the job."
The current situation of buying up large areas of land, and blanket planting trees serves no purpose, Darke said.
"It's a shame and a lost opportunity for rural communities."
The impact of farming families moving away after land is converted is already being felt keenly in rural New Zealand.
"We've got 47 kids at our local primary school [but] we need 50 to retain our current level of staffing, so we're kind of always on edge.
"It we take another farm, or two farms out of the district and put them into trees, those kids are gone from the school. They're gone forever.
"The staff that those farms employ, they're gone. So, it feels like it's teetering at the moment."
The response to Darke's Facebook post has "been incredible."
"There's been a lot of people coming to me and saying 'Yes – we need more trees on our farm. Yes – we're totally keen to do something like this.'
"I've also been contacted by some energy companies who are interested to talk."
Darke's advice for landowners wanting to investigate her proposal further is to reach out.
"Get in touch with me…get in touch with your sub-catchment group."
"I think there's a way that we can work together to try and come up with some collaborative solution."