Smart farmers welcome trees

Friday 23 Aug 2019

For almost 20 years, Peter Clark was the CEO of New Zealand’s largest forestry and land use consulting and management company, PF Olsen. He is immediate past president of the New Zealand Forest Owners Association and a member of the New Zealand Institute of Forestry. Now a forestry consultant, Mr Clark weighs in on the current hot topic — farmland versus forestry.

The campaign against forestry in New Zealand, most recently run by Federated Farmers vice president Andrew Hoggard, assists neither the fight against global warming nor the interests of New Zealand landowning farmers. Mr Hoggard told Parliament’s environment select committee that trees last only 30 years and forestry is killing local communities.

The longevity of the individual tree is neither here nor there. Nearly all of our 1.7 million hectares of plantation forest are harvested at different times and then replanted with new seedlings. The forests themselves effectively go on forever, continuing to lock up massive amounts of carbon from the atmosphere.

Forestry adds to local employment, especially as the forests mature. Forest owners may not employ the workers directly, as they usually do on farms, but the forest workforce per hectare is considerably higher than that for sheep and beef farming. New forestry fosters local communities, not diminishes them.

In contrast, the number of farm workers on sheep and beef properties has been steadily decreasing for decades.

. . . the return from forestry is a number of times greater than that from farming sheep and cattle With a larger forestry workforce, goes a larger return on the same area. Per hectare, per year, the return from forestry is a number of times greater than that from farming sheep and cattle. It’s also Mr Hoggard’s organisation’s membership which appears to be realising these economics and doing most of the planting.

Recent foreign investment in planting new forests is negligible. Of the estimated 30,000 hectares of forest conversions along the east coast of the North Island this year, more than 90 percent are by New Zealand owners. Only four properties have been approved for new forest plantings by the Overseas Investment Office for all of New Zealand since new rules were introduced in 2017.

However, given the capital-intensive requirements prior to harvest returns, the area of conversion which will be required to meet our international greenhouse gas commitments is unlikely to be met through just domestic funding. There is also more indigenous biodiversity in plantation forests than on pasture land.

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Source: Gisborne Herald

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