25 February, 2023
Historic deal lights way for agricultural properties
LOCAL organisation Forever Wild has taken a big step towards protecting iconic Australian landscapes after a historic deal with the Commonwealth Bank and Corporate Carbon enabled them to purchase two cattle stations in Western Australia for the purpose of protecting biodiversity and cultural heritage, specifically through sustainable agriculture and carbon farming.
Forever Wild was able to purchase two cattle stations for roughly $2 million, which they plan to run as working cattle stations, but completely restructuring the livestock and herd dynamics to regenerate and restore the woodlands and generate carbon credits.
Forever Wild doubles as a company as well as a registered charity that operates with blended finance from impact investment and philanthropy around natural capital such as carbon, sustainable agriculture and biodiversity credits.
They believe that conservation can be achieved with truly sustainable food production and social outcomes, to protect Australian landscapes and produce quality food.
The carbon credits made available from the properties were forward sold to the Commonwealth Bank, via Corporate Carbon, with that money then used to finance the purchase of the land. The deal reduces the financial pressure as it is not linked to interest rates.
The Mareeba Wetlands was the pilot for the overall Forever Wild’s concept of blending conservation, low-impact agriculture and social enterprise. They reorganised the land management, livestock and enterprise aspects of the reserve to make the property financially sustainable, and there will be more changes coming this year at the Wetlands.
Forever Wild CEO Fiachra Kearney was delighted to be able to enter the deal with the bank, trading directly in natural capital to conserve, protect and rehabilitate the land and protect the diverse cultural heritage sites.
He said because the deal does not focus on the value of the agricultural product the properties produce, but rather the natural capital assets, there is more scope to experiment with how to actually run them.
“The nature of the deal is innovative for the Commonwealth Bank and the nature of trading in natural capital and carbon credits is basically a new way to finance the purchase of agricultural land,” he said.
“The way traditional agriculture tends to work is that the land is exploited to make a product, the product is sold, revenue comes back to pay off debts and make a livelihood.
"Finance pressures can mean there is little room for restoring ecosystems, protecting our globally important landscapes or producing genuinely sustainable food.
“But there is a growing consumer market around products which are clearly linked to bio-diversity, ecological function and restoring landscapes to a really healthy state.”
Further down the track. Forever Wild will be able to produce finance products around biodiversity which will further offset agricultural intensification.
“On our WA properties the herd numbers will be about a third of what the properties can carry but it means we can re-store the land,” he said.
“It also gives us much higher live weight gains, stronger drought resilience and lower operating costs. As a bonus we have a premium product that consumers can directly link to the conservation and cultural heritage management on our properties.
“Further down the track, sound conservation management will enable us to create finance products around bio-diversity with then potentially further offset agricultural intensification. However, keeping these properties as part of the food production systems is critical – we just plan to do it better.”
Mr Kearney said there is very strong interest in natural capital assets and markets in the southern states, WA and overseas, and he believes that the Tablelands, the Gulf Country and Cape York Peninsula have enormous potential to leverage these markets.
“We are missing the boat here,” he said.
“With the focus still quite focused on land clearing, over-grazing and unsustainable practices, while there is still a lot of work to do on the systems and integrity of natural capital trading, these markets will continue to grow.”