Billion Trees backlash

Friday 16 Aug 2019

New Zealand Forestry Minister Shane Jones has defended the Government’s One Billion Trees policy in the face of mounting criticism from the rural sector, saying the rise of forestry shows that land use in New Zealand is “in transition”.

Increased tree planting has drawn flak in parts of the country, with pastoral land going into forestry, aided by what some see as overseas investment rules that favour forestry, making properties easier to sell to foreign interests while the rules around pastoral land remain tight.

Real Estate Institute of NZ rural spokesman Brian Peacocke in June said that overseas investment rules and other factors such as tighter credit conditions were making their presence felt in the rural sector.

“On the rural front, discontent smoulders strongly in a number of regions, fanned particularly by the ongoing emergence of evidence of sales of good pastoral land to forestry interests, this activity being aided and abetted by the Overseas Investment Office providing an environment conducive to investment from offshore interests,” he said.

This factor, coupled with compliance issues and an evident hardening of lending criteria from within the banking sector, was adding to a mood of widespread concern and caution within the rural sector.

Mr Jones told The NZ Herald that the Government was looking at investment patterns in forestry. “We are monitoring the transactions that are going through the Overseas Investment Office because an allegation was made that we had incentivised investment in forestry, which would lead to whole farm conversions,” he said.

“What we are seeing, predominantly, is forestry interests trading with each other,” he said. “It’s an area from the Wairarapa to Wairoa — certainly an area that we are watching carefully — but we have not seen anything profligate in terms of mountains of foreign capital pouring into that area.”

On other fronts, forestry is facing opposition from the farmer-funded Beef and Lamb New Zealand, which says large scale conversion of sheep and beef farms to forestry will have a significant negative impact on rural New Zealand. A Beef and Lamb NZ-commissioned study of Wairoa showed forestry provided fewer jobs than sheep and beef farms.

In Wairoa, 8486 hectares of sheep and beef farmland had been, or was in the process of being, converted to forestry, Beef and Lamb said. Beef and Lamb asked consultancy BakerAg to compare the economic and employment effects of the conversion of sheep and beef farms into forestry.

Its report said that if all the sheep and beef farms in Wairoa were converted to forestry, then Wairoa would see a net loss of nearly 700 local jobs and net NZ$23.5 million less spent in the local economy when compared to blanket forestry — excluding harvest year.

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Source: gisborneherald

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