One billion trees

The new government want to plant 100 million trees over 10 years to support achieving our climate change commitments. Northland has roughly 5.1% of New Zealand’s land area, so that equates to about 5.1 million trees for Northland per year. Of course we should probably have more, as we don’t have snow here and trees will grow faster than most other places, and therefore sequester carbon quicker.

Northland forest

Northland forest (image credit: Department of Conservation)

Food trees

No doubt many of the trees will be pine and hopefully native trees. I would like to see a commitment that a percentage of the trees are food trees, or trees that support or compliment food production, e.g. shelter belts, farm forestry, manuka and kanuka. There may be opportunities to support such plantings. It would be too easy for the planners to focus on pine trees and reforestation.

It also makes a lot of sense to be planting food trees in parks and streets in urban settings and in schools.

Sequestration rates

If we are planting trees to sequester carbon how do large fruiting plants such as avocado trees, macadamias or bananas compare? This article establishes sequestration rates for macadamias in Australia as 3tons CO2/ha per year. I can’t find data on sequestration for bananas and avocados, but we can compare pasture, native shrubs and trees for a rough estimation. Here are some examples of sequestration rates.

sequestration rates

These numbers are from this webpage and the Tane’s Tree Trust website. They are sometimes aggregated to establish a range and variables include tree age – the max figure for totara is from a 102 year stand. Notice the graph below indicates a higher value for pine.

From this table, we can surmise that bananas, for example would sequester at least as much carbon as the minimum numbers for manuka/kanuka. If anyone has data on banana or avocado biomass, please let me know.

growth and sequestration rates.png

This graph, from the Tane’s Tree Trust website reveals the growth and sequestration rates of different species. Notice that in the short term, native shrubs out perform native trees. We can assume bananas in Northland might follow a similar trajectory to native shrubs as they quickly bulk up.

Pine trees offer rapid growth rates, but harvest processes remove the above ground biomass and can create significant erosion of topsoil and therefore soil carbon, especially on steep land. On the other hand, as with any timber, incorporating wood into constructions sequesters that carbon for decades.

Other values

Timber plantations are important, but we need a broader assessment of their environmental, social and economic value. For example for every 1000 hectares forestry and logging employs 3 people. By contrast, for the same area, dairy employs 19.1 and horticulture 101 people. Thus, monocultural forestry depopulates while horticulture can repopulate rural Northland.

Michael Pollan charts a pathway to good health “eat food, not too much, mostly plants”. If we help  Northlanders to have plenty of access to food trees, and some of it free in schools and public spaces, we can support better health.

How you can help

I would like to see a message sent to the relevant Ministers, and the Regional and District Councils encouraging a target for food trees as a percentage of the 100 million trees to be planted annually. Ideally it will co-signed by relevant organisations, eg, Tropical Fruit Growers, Tree Crops Associations, Enviroschools, Health agencies (fruit trees for schools, parks and streets), and marae.

If you know of organisations to approach for support for this message, please provide the name and the name and email of a contact person.

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Feeding the world

The convergence of rapid population growth and climate change threaten our ability to feed everybody. But our thinking about solutions has been a monocultural reflection of how we grow our food. A recent Guardian article suggests switching to organic farming could cut greenhouse gas emissions and still feed the world.

What we don’t need

We don’t need more “business as usual agriculture”.  The 2016 IPES-Food report (page 54) warns us that “feed the world” narratives are one of eight “lock-ins” that inhibits our collective ability to rethink the way we grow food. Advocates of current industrial food systems claim that massive monocultures, synthetic fertilisers, genetically modified crops and toxic chemicals are essential to feed the world. But if we follow the money we are more likely to find they are serving their financial ambition rather than any altruistic concern for the greater good.

But we also don’t need purist ideologies about how food should be produced. Rather a diversity of solutions should be explored with each assessed on its own merits.

Here are some solutions. Some will work better in a country such as mine (New Zealand) where population density is low, but every bit of food grown (and not wasted) helps.

1. Rethink what it means to be “organic”

Can food only be called organic if it is grown in the soil? Can organic food be grown hydroponically? When I first studied soil science about 40 years ago, conventional horticulture relied on a handful of macronutrients and micronutrients. Now high quality products are available that supply nutrients and important microbial constituents (Rok Soild is my preferred fertiliser). USDA organic certification is now available to qualifying hydroponic, aeroponic, and aquaponic crop systems.

Since the early days of hydroponics, growers have learned how growing in a more controlled environment can reduce or eliminate the need for pesticides. And in these systems herbicides just aren’t needed.

vertical farms.png

These containers are “vertical farms” used by food banks. Crops are grown inside using LED light and energy efficient heating enabling year around production.  Aerofarms farms vertically on a bigger scale.

This system has detractors but it seems a good option for growing food close to where it is needed without nasty chemicals.

2. Try aquaponics

Aquaponics is another option – combining fish and produce production.

Ben Smith is a local advocate of aquaponics.

3. End our obsession with lawns

Lawns are beautiful additions to the landscape and great places for children to play. But in our towns and cities (especially in New Zealand) we waste too much energy mowing lawns when we could be growing more food.

Here is a kiwi example of optimising urban lawn space to create lots of food.

4. Collapse the ornamental/food dichotomy

Most of us have grown up in the traditional garden where food production and ornamentals have there own space. Municipal parks departments also have difficulties coping with the concept of mixing the two. After all fruit trees drop fruit and can be messy! But imagine a landscape where children can eat feijoas, citrus and passionfruit on their way to school. For some, it might be the most nutritious food they get that day. This video shows how a group in Portland Oregon, “glean” fruit to distribute to the needy.     Couple this with an intensification of fruit tree plantings in public spaces and we bring good food closer to those that need it.

5. Diversify protein

I’m not sure how I feel about lab grown meat, but it gets around some of the environmental problems that are presently coupled with intensified agricultural systems.

A new initiative in New Zealand produces a “chicken free chicken” out of pea protein.

 

So here’s a diverse range of approaches to getting food to people. What is most important is for people to make their own assessment about what works best for them and their communities and to have a whole lot of tolerance for other ways of growing food.

 

Trees and dairy

We have to deintensify dairy for a whole lot of reasons. Uppermost in public discourse is water quality, but also intensification has to be sustained by increased inputs that place a burden on the environment. For example, imports of palm kernel meal has risen from 96 metric tonnes in 2003 to 1,600 metric tonnes in 2017 [1]. This 2011 Greenpeace report outlined the carbon footprint of palm kernel.

In a similar timeframe, the use of nitrogenous fertilisers in New Zealand has increased from 231 kilotons (kt) in 2002 to 428 kt in 2014. [2]  Nitrous oxide is a potent greenhouse gas that, according to MPI, “comes from the conversions in the soil by microbes of nitrogen in fertiliser, urine and dung”. Nitrogen is especially needed to pump up grass growth where stocking rates are high.

Transitioning to sustainable stocking rates

Farmers are impelled to increase stock rates for farm viability, so to deintensify, how are dairy farms incomes sustained? There are four pathways:

  • reduce input costs
  • increase per cow productivity
  • create other income streams
  • reform economic practices to deflate speculative practices.

Fortunately there are farms that are showing the way.

Paulownia NZ

Graham and Tess Smith of Paulownia NZ  have a small dairy farm in the Waikato. They have two income streams, dairy, and Paulownia timber.

paulownia-wood-suppliers

They now have 500 paulownia’s planted and are harvesting wood. This image shows how the paulownia canopy still enables reasonable light penetration to the pasture. When the trees drop their leaves the cows love to eat them and the roots penetrate deeper into the earth than pasture roots. The Paulownia NZ website cites Canadian research that shows that trees in pasture (agroforestry) reduces “farmland nitrogen losses by 50 per cent, compared to conventional farming methods”[3].

Paulownia is a remarkable tree, capable of growth rates of 6 metres per year, and has an expanding market. According to the Farm Forestry New Zealand website, the wood was selling for between $1,750 and $2,450 per cubic metre in 2007.

Paulownia

Graham and Tess Smith sell their paulownia for $11 per lineal metre for 100 X 50. The timber is very light, second only to balsa wood and in New Zealand is used for boats, surfboards and skis. Here is an example of a surfboard blank.

wooden-surfboard-supplier2

Paulownia need a free-draining soil, so are not a solution for every dairy farm , but it is great to see examples of diversification. We will look at more in future posts.

Footnote:  I am not a dairy expert, but coming from a rural background and living in Northland I am very interested in how we navigate our way to a post-carbon world, and they way we grow our food is a big part of that.


[1] from Index Mundi

[2} from Australia and New Zealand Fertiliser Market and Fertiliser Usage Status, the International Plant Nutrition Institute.

[3] from Agroforestry: A New Approach to Increasing Farm Production. A Nuffield Farming Scholarships Trust report by Stephen Briggs.

Miraka milk showing the way

New Zealand has just been through a parliamentary election and elections breed dichotomies like still water breeds mosquitos. We saw the town/country, farmer/environmentalist, economic growth/environment dichotomies in play. If you are the champion of one side, dichotomous thinking encourages you to be the enemy of the other side.

One of the biggest issues was around water quality with the focus on dairy farming. Its clear that we have too many cows in many catchments. The negative impacts are outlined in this Greenpeace report. But does this mean we will see the slaughter of dairy cows as one politician wanting to fuel fear declared? (There is some irony in this, because all cows get slaughtered eventually – so the more you have, the more slaughter you get).

So can we break the dichotomy? Can we have fewer cows and still have profitable farms and a better environment? Part of the answer must lie in diversification.

Miraka Milk

Miraka is a Māori owned dairy processing business in the Mokai Valley in the central North Island. As a Māori business, principles of kaitiakitanga (guardians of the land) and tikanga guide the business. The factory is run on geothermal power and milk waste is processed through a giant worm farm. Miraka is one enterprise of the Tuaropaki Trust. In addition to dairying, the geothermal power is used to heat greenhouses and the trust has several other enterprises.

This September 2017 audio from Radio NZ features Kim Hill interviewing CEO Richard Wyeth.

Miraka has maintained good payouts to farmers and is driving up the value chain reducing the need for intensification. There is diversification in the parent trust, but individual dairy, horticulture and pastoral farming units appear to “stick to their knitting”, essentially monocultural.

Diversification

Simply reducing stocking rates may not be the answer. The Lincoln University demonstration farm has managed to reduce nitrate leaching by 30% by reducing stocking numbers, but extracting more production from the remaining cows.

We are in the early days of exploring diversifying income streams from the land. Where are those farmers that work the land to optimise returns by nurturing the diverse niches that the land inevitably provides – the lean steeper country, the riparian margins, the manuka groves and the totara remnants? Farm foresters utilise steeper country for tree planting. Riparian plantings that protect waterways from sediment runoff and capture some nutrients also offer the opportunity for crop diversification – notably, bananas in some Northland sites. Manuka groves supply income from honey and support bee populations for important pollination work. The Northland Totara Working Group is promoting the sustainable management of the totara groves that pepper Northland farms. One benefit is timber production. Examples abound – but where are those that integrate options in a way that optimises the health of the land and its ability to produce sustainably?

Posts that follow this one will hopefully surface examples of farms exemplifying income diversification and kaitiakitanga. Congratulations to Miraka for pointing the way.

 

 

 

The food solutions to climate change

drawdownWow. Who would have thought that there are so many ways that we can reverse climate change. The Drawdown project, led by Paul Hawken is a game changer.  His project team details 80 ways we can take carbon dioxide (CO2) out of the atmosphere. Drawdown is the point where globally we start to reduce atmospheric CO2.

The project groups the 80 interventions into 7 clusters, and the cluster that can generate the highest reduction – 31%, is FOOD! Between 2020 and 2050, food initiatives that are already underway can reduce CO2 by 321.9 gigatonnes.

Drawdown sectors

The graph indicates where the reductions can come. Food leads at 31%, followed by energy at 23%.

Surprisingly, efficiencies in refrigeration management is the single biggest item in the top ten CO2 reducers. Reduced food waste comes in at number three, contributing a 70.5 gig tonne reduction, with a plant-rich diet coming in fourth with a 66.1 gigatonne reduction. And I thought effective action was all about renewable energy and electric cars! But as Paul Hawken states, we all of these actions will make the difference.

Here is the full list of food interventions.

Food interventions 2

You can find more detail of there at the Drawdown website under the solutions menu and buy the book.

Science and advocacy with heart

For those that feel like climate change is too big for them to have impact, this food list and the other interventions provides lots of options for action. That is encouraging! What is also encouraging is the optimistic tone of the book. Paul Hawken writes:

If we change the preposition, and consider that global warming is happening for us – an atmospheric transformation that inspires us to change and reimagine everything we make and do – we begin to live in a different world. We take 100 percent responsibility and stop blaming others. We see global warming not as an inevitability but as an invitation to build, innovate, and effect change, a pathway that awakens creativity, compassion, and genius. This is not a liberal agenda, nor is it a conservative one. This is a human agenda.

At number six and seven on the list is “educating girls” and “family planning”. At number 62 is women smallholders. These are emancipating aspirations. According to Drawdown women feed many more people than the industrial food system:

On average, women make up 43 percent of the agricultural labor force and produce 60 to 80 percent of food crops in poorer parts of the world. Often unpaid or low-paid laborers, they cultivate field and tree crops, tend livestock, and grow home gardens. Most of them are part of the 475 million smallholder families who operate on less than 5 acres of land. more>>

Here’s Paul Hawken. Its a long video, but well worth the watch!

 

 

Thinking Resilience

In this intro, Richard Heinberg explains the ground covered in the short, online, Think Resilience course. It is a very affordable course and several of us in the Whangarei Transition Towns have done it. We are keen to get together with others to discuss the course material and its implications for our community. Please let me know if you are interested.

No more agrochemicals please

I’ve stopped using glyphosate on our land a couple of years ago – and I think that Papatuanuku likes that I am not pouring poison on her anymore. I only sprayed paved surfaces and now my efforts at weed control are more labour intensive – but its worth it. I know when I harvest food from our land it has not been poisoned. And I know that I am not supporting the companies that make these poisons.

This post touches on three agrochemicals that we should not be using.

Glyphosate

Take glyphosate for example. According to this heavily referenced study published by the Green Party, it is probably carcinogenic, genotoxic, is a endocrine disruptor and neurotoxin  – and much more. The Greens are asking that it is not used in parks where our children play. In this video Dr Seneff discusses some of the issues with glyphosate including autism.

Organophosphates

An extensive European Union study estimated the cost of organophosphate exposure due to reduced children’s IQ levels at 125 billion euros. This Harvard article identifies chlorpyrifos and glyphosate as neurotoxins, claiming they erode intelligence. Organophosphates are damaging to the brain and to the developing foetus.

Organophosphates, such as chlorpyrifos are used widely in New Zealand. Dr. Meriel Watts of Pesticide Action Group Aotearoa want chlorpyrifos reassessed here as it is bioaccumulative. Here is Dr Watts presenting on pesticides. Sadly the rate of pesticide use is still on the rise.

Neonicotinoids

If you plant corn seeds, they may have been treated with a neonicotinoid dressing (the pink stuff). If you watched Dr Watt’s presentation she explains the impact of these nasty chemicals on bees. A June 2017 New Scientist magazine article reports a mountain of evidence that neonicotinoids kill bees. A 2015 estimate of the values of bees to the global economy as 265 billion euros.

The value of ecosystem services (including pollination) is about the same total global GDP, but we erode the value of bees, soil biota and aquatic life with our continued use of poisons. We also create detrimental health impacts for people and communities. Why do we do it? Follow the money.