Climate change and the rural way of life

Friday 21 Jun 2019

The New Zealand government’s environmental policy is creating major tensions in farming communities. Alex Braae went to a meeting in Taumarunui to see it play out.

“We’ve got to get the government’s attention somehow. Okay, we’re not all going to jump on our tractors and drive to Wellington. But we could jump on our tractors and block all the roads for a day and a half, just to get them to listen.”

The comment came from the floor, at a public meeting on carbon farming being held at the Taumarunui Golf Club. It was a rainy day, which meant farmers had some free time. The room was packed and fearful. In question was the future of their town, their district and their way of life.

A while ago, some farmers started talking about the ‘triple bottom line’ – economic, environmental and social. They started assessing themselves on not only how much money could be brought in, but how the farm contributed to the wider community and ecosystem. It’s a concept borrowed from the world of corporate sustainability, and has parallels in the long-term view of what farming should be about. Obviously, the performance of the farming world has been mixed on all three, particularly the environmental bottom line, but the mindset is changing.

But a new trend threatens to upend it completely. Recent months have seen a rapid rise in farms being sold to people who intend to turn the land over to carbon farming – in less technical terms, growing trees for carbon credits. Many of the purchases are made through the Overseas Investment Act.

It has led to the emergence of a group calling themselves 50 Shades of Green who have been touring rural service towns with dire warnings of the social and economic dislocation that would come with an end to food farming. After the morning meeting in Taumarunui, spokesperson Mike Butterick and his group were heading down country to Mangaweka, with some National MPs in tow.

The group originated in Wairarapa, where the process of land conversions to forestry is already well underway. Huge hillsides that once grazed animals are now being planted with trees, and with that change comes fewer jobs. Statistics provided by the group suggest for every 1000 hectares of farming, seven jobs are created compared to one for forestry.

The story on everyone’s lips is of the school in Kumeroa, across the Manawatū River from Woodville, which has lost its teacher. Her husband was a shepherd on a farm now being used for trees. The nightmare scenario for 50 Shades of Green is a depopulated rural world, with nothing but pinus radiata stretching as far as the eye can see, all of it covering land of the sorts of grades that are perfect for animals.


Photo: A social media image put out by 50 Shades of Green

Source: thespinoff

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