By Debbie James

A Pembrokeshire dairy farmer is managing his woodland to help him achieve his goal of producing milk from a carbon neutral dairy herd.

Jeff Wheeler, who farms on the outskirts of Efailwen, insists farmers are being unfairly targeted by environmentalists on carbon emissions.

He is thinning out trees in woodland on his farm to allow others to grow stronger and capture carbon; this, he says, will help to offset the footprint of his business.

Mr Wheeler points out that 40 acres of woodland can offset all the carbon that 250 cows produce. And the efficient grassland management policy he has in place also acts as a sink for carbon.

“Surely this must be a positive marketing tool for customers and supermarkets?’’ he suggests.

“We are contributing to the wider provisional services to complement the landscape for tourism, to enhance habitat connectivity between land owners, safeguarding historic and archaeological interests, and including carbon positive management.’’

By bringing his woodlands back into active management he is improving its environmental condition, creating a coppice with habitat which improves flora and habitat for a wider range of woodland species and bird life.

“We are encouraging a sustainable carbon positive contribution which we can use to offset some of the carbon emissions from the efficiencies of the farm business, which is inherent in producing affordable food,’’ Mr Wheeler points out.

The benefits of farming to wider society goes beyond food production, he says, even though producing food is his main business focus.

“Good forest management can and does complement farming practices, we should not see the two land uses as in competition.’’

On average, every person consumes around 10 tonnes of carbon a year while 10 dairy cows emit around one tonne of carbon a year. A 40-year-old tree will store or offset a tonne of carbon in its lifetime.

“Each tree grown to 40 years or more will offset the annual carbon emission of 10 cows,’’ says Mr Wheeler.

Based on these statistics a 40-year-old woodland of 40 acres, with 250 trees per acre and storing 10,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide, will offset the annual carbon emissions of 250 dairy cows.

“If every dairy herd owner plants an acre of trees for every six to seven cows, or manages a productive grassland farm for 250 cows, and complements the business with a further 40 acres, it will offer the carbon neutral marketing gain for milk.

“One hundred and twenty-five acres, 125 cows and 20 acres of woodland will offer the same and so on.’’

Trees would continue their carbon offset role every year until they were felled at which point they would need to be replaced.