Jim Morris at home in the Ahuriri Valley. To the left is a
wetland area he has fenced off for native planting. Photo
by Sally Rae.
An ambitious high country carbon project is being
investigated which, if it proves successful, those involved say
could be the start of a new era for high country families,
reports Sally Rae.
Jim Morris likes referring to the orangutan theory.
A chap in Borneo, having read about the money to be made in
palm oil, heads out to cut down a patch of rainforest to
plant palm oil trees.
He is just about to strike the first blow with his axe when
the local regional council officer arrives and tells him he
will get a carbon credit if he puts the axe away.
Some time later, the officer returns to visit the man and the
two go for a walk in the rainforest.
They see orangutans have returned - so he gets an ecosystem
Then a rare butterfly, which has not been seen for years,
A stream which used to be muddy is now pristine.
The man gets more credits.
As Mr Morris, from Ben Avon Station in the Ahuriri Valley,
near Omarama, says, the man in Borneo is now sustainable.
And he is "farming" the ecosystem.
The high country carbon project - the recent recipient of
funding of $185,000 for two years from the Ministry of
Agriculture and Forestry's Sustainable Farming Fund - was a
project born from concerns Mr Morris had about the
profitability of farming in the high country.
As he told a group of Federated Farmers High Country members
recently, traditional stock farming was not paying the bills.
Another product was needed and the obvious choices were
carbon and eco services trading.
For many farmers, the carbon tax they would have to pay in
the future could be offset by plantings of exotic forestry.
However, that was not an option for many in the high country,
where district plans forbade or severely curtailed such
plantings on land designated as "outstanding landscapes".
A paper, written by 13 scientists, estimated that in 1997 the
economic value of the world's ecosystem services averaged
$US33 trillion, while the global gross national product was
only $US18 trillion.
"In global economic terms, therefore, by protecting my patch
of matagouri, I have achieved almost twice the value of
ploughing it to grow grass for stock," Mr Morris said.
The project team's aim is to quantify what is happening in
the carbon sequestration world with native scrublands,
tussock grasslands and wetlands under different management
While it was already known that sequestration rates in
natives tended to be low, the sheer size of the high country
meant "an awful lot of carbon".
At 10% of total land area, South Island high country lands
were integral to New Zealand climate change solutions.
However, very little information existed on the amount of
carbon stored in tussock grasslands or potential management
actions to increase carbon storage.
The project would provide the necessary information for high
country land managers to mitigate climate change and access
new business opportunities while improving the sustainable
use of landscape resources.
Those driving the project include Mr Morris, Melanie Schauer
and Phil McGuigan, from Environment Canterbury, Larry Burrows
(Landcare Research), Matthew Clark (Land Information New
Zealand) and farmers Hamish Ensor, Kerry Harmer and John
Mr Burrows, a plant ecologist, described the project as a
"fantastic idea", saying it was quite innovative and
The research needed to be done and was something that had
In New Zealand, there was very little information on the
topic, especially in relation to high country farming.
In time, it could have an effect on high country land use and
the economic and social issues around the high country as
There was a long way to go but the funding from the
Sustainable Farming Fund was a good start and would "kick
things off", he said.
Financial support has also been received from ECan, Federated
Farmers High Country, Merino Inc, Linz, Doc and Mr Morris,
while philosophical supporters include the Forest and Bird
Society, Federated Mountain Clubs, Central South Island Fish
and Game, QEII National Trust and Waitaki District Council.
While the end result was unknown, if the research "comes up
trumps", it could be the start of a new era for high country
families, Mr Morris said.
"Their reliance on meat and wool for their only income and
the vulnerability that comes with that position may become a
thing of the past," he said.