Between mining companies’ carbon offsets and farmers’ land restoration projects, the market for native tree seedlings is booming and seed suppliers are having difficulty keeping up.
- A group of Aboriginal farmers plan to triple the size of a native tree nursery to meet booming demand for carbon farming
- They want to build more nurseries to create Aboriginal jobs and grow tree species from different regions
- A native seed expert says the trees must be from diverse regions to ensure carbon projects succeed in a changing climate
In Beverley, south-east of Perth, native seed farmer and Ballardong Noongar man Oral McGuire is working to meet that demand by fusing regenerative and traditional land management practices.
“Today there is a significant — 50 per cent or more — shortfall [of native tree seed],” he said.
“We’re already at risk of not fulfilling what is needed for carbon offsets or rehabilitation projects.”
For 14 years he has been planting trees on his Beverley farm, employing local Aboriginal people to harvest seeds for future plantings.
In that time, more Australian landholders have started planting trees to earn carbon credits, offset emissions, and reap the benefits of tree cover on farms.
From small seeds
Mr McGuire is a director at the Noongar Land Enterprise (NLE) Group, an Aboriginal farming collective that runs a tree seedling nursery using seeds from his farm.
Seeing the demand for native seed, the NLE is now planning to triple the nursery’s output.
“This year we’ve actually planted one million cells [of native tree seed] and we’re looking to bump that up to at least two-and-a-half, three million,” production manager David Collins said.
Once grown into seedlings, those trees are sold and, in many cases, planted by Noongar rangers elsewhere in Western Australia’s Wheatbelt region.
As well as expanding the existing nursery, its chief executive Alan Beattie said he planned to establish more tree nurseries across Noongar country, which stretched more than 1,000 kilometres from Geraldton to the Esperance region.
“I would expect within a couple of years’ time, we will be needing 300-plus people in order to meet those demands.
“Those services will provide significant employment opportunities for Aboriginal people right across Noongar country.”
The right trees for the job
Starting new nurseries, rather than just expanding existing ones, makes it possible to grow more tree species adapted to different climates.
“We know the country here in the Wheatbelt changes significantly whether you go south, north, east or west,” Mr McGuire said.
In 2020, Macquarie University researcher Nola Hancock co-authored a report into Australia’s native seed supplywhich found wild trees were struggling to produce enough seed for land restoration projects.
She advocated for more seed to be farmed from diverse regions to reduce the burden on wild-harvesting and boost the genetic diversity of the trees.
“If [tree seeds] aren’t genetically diverse, it becomes a spiral of inbreeding and depression and as each generation comes along it deteriorates further,” Ms Hancock said.
She said if tree-planting projects were to succeed, they needed to be ready for decades of unpredictable climate to come.
“You might go to a town or a region where it’s two degrees warmer and get some seed from there,” Ms Hancock said.
“You might go to somewhere where it’s one degree warmer and get a bit from there.
“It’s kind of like a bet-hedging strategy.”