Ararat landholders recognised for carbon farming

REGION - Farmers Peter and Christine Forster have been recognised for their environmental planting projects as part of the Gillard Government's Carbon Farming Initiative.

The program rewards landholders for cutting or avoiding carbon pollution on the land.

The Forsters have been direct seeding marginal land on their 800 hectare property with local native species such as Red Gum and Black Wattle since 2010, and are now sequestering approximately 4.5 tonnes of carbon emissions per hectare per year.

Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, Mark Dreyfus, visited the Forsters' Bullock Hills property, south of Ararat to see some of the projects.

Mr Forster said along with representations from government it was good to see various other organisations and groups at the visit.

"We had people from the Upper Hopkins, Ararat Greenhouse Action Group, Ararat Landcare, Environmental Farmers' Network and Southern Farming Systems," he said.

Mr Forster said he and his wife returned to the family owned farm just in time for the 1982 drought.

"The drought in 1982 was really short, sharp and nasty," he said.

"It came as a real wake up call and brought home some of the issues we were facing when it came to sustainability.

"Through the various projects we have enacted we have been able to farm better ever since, with decent vegetation and decent waterways.

"The Carbon Farming Initiative is an extension of the original projects to help recreate the landscape that used to be here."

Mr Forster said the benefits are diverse and large in number.

"Once the trees are established, after around three years, it is a great sheep grazing management tool that will in turn control the fire risk to the land," he said.

Mr Forster said he has been involved in various other projects while secretary of the Upper Hopkins Land Management Group.

"We have completed some erosion control work to erect fences along the Hopkins River to keep sheep out of the waterways and planting paddock trees for shade," he said.

Mr Dreyfus said the work by the Forsters is an excellent example of how farmers can improve their land and environment while contributing to a reduction of harmful carbon pollution.

"Droughts, storms and fires are all intensified by the effects of climate change and are potentially very damaging to Australia's agricultural sector, which is why the Gillard Government is taking practical steps to cut heat-trapping carbon pollution," he said.

"Carbon farming projects, such as this, strengthen the land and generate carbon credits which provide extra income for farmers who can sell them to heavy polluting businesses that need to offset their carbon emissions," said Mr Dreyfus.

Mr Dreyfus said the hot summer weather was a reminder to all Australians that responsible action to tackle climate change cannot be dismissed or avoided.

The Forsters' Bullock Hills project uses the Environmental Plantings of Native Species Methodology, one of seven approved methodologies under the Carbon Farming Initiative.

The carbon sequestered is calculated using the Reforestation Modelling Tool.

Mrs Forster said the plantings which cover 32 hectares of their farm, reduce soil erosion and dry land salinity, improving the health of the Hopkins River.

"The trees create biodiversity benefits and will provide much needed shade and shelter for livestock," she said.

"We have been planting trees for 30 years for multiple farming, environmental and biodiversity benefits.

"About 25 per cent of the farm is revegetated with local native species."

Mr Forster said support for and involvement in the projects was huge and had grown over time to stretch across a lot of locations across the region.

"We've always been very interested in bio-diversity and looking at ways of making sure we are putting the land to best use," he said.

"It really has become a network that covers a big area, with around 90 members," he said.

"In a state wide survey conducted recently, farmers in the Upper Hopkins area were found to be the most active when it came Landcare."

"I think the future of the Upper Hopkins is exceedingly bright.

"It has people behind it who know the area and farmers well."

"The Carbon Farming Initiative gives many farmers the opportunity, if they're willing, to improve their properties."

During his visit to Western Victoria, Mr Dreyfus also visited the 52.5MW Challicum Hills wind farm which will mark its tenth anniversary this year - See page 8.

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