Farming’s forestry hysteria questioned

Friday 4 Nov 2022

Beef & Lamb NZ and Federated Farmers media release on recent results of an opinion survey on forestry offset adds to the misuse of information that’s building alarm and public hysteria around forestry that is not helpful. Misunderstanding of the role of forestry in climate change may rob NZ of one of the few remedies available. Picking selective facts from surveys they commissioned is building a narrative that suits their political purposes and deflects from the real issues.

Asking those surveyed whether they support a limit on forestry offsets to mitigate fossil fuel emissions or whether there is concern around the conversion of farms to forests to meet climate change, addresses only a part of the issue. Both avoid the obvious question “What alternatives do you prefer?” A more relevant question might be, “What global temperature increase is acceptable before we start using land use change as a method of cooling the planet?”.

Beef & Lamb NZ also released an update on whole farms sold to forestry interests. They report that in 2021 a total 52,000 ha was sold. They ignore that 2,292 was to Manuka interests, and only 19,717 was for carbon forestry. They simply use a total from the bottom of the table. Importantly for the public to receive total disclosure, Beef & Lamb NZ fail to give the numbers context.

The total of whole farms sold to forestry interests that year was less than 0.5% of the area in pastoral farming. Far from “ripping the guts out of rural communities” the change is less than what a free-market economy would expect anyway. Their report usefully maps where these changes occurred and show it was not concentrated in any district. Instead, they are widely dispersed and occurred in almost every region of NZ.

These leaders have also said in radio interviews that farming should not be held responsible for cooling the climate. I don’t see why not, farming’s contribution to heating the planet is evident in all the emissions reports going back 40-50years. Farming’s leadership should be addressing the lack of progress in reducing global warming instead of deflecting public awareness on to the issue of a relatively small area being sold to forestry interests.

Current flooding, droughts, and windstorms indicate climate change will destroy rural economies at significant scale unless tree crops are used to provide financial and environmental buffering. We need a better-informed debate than this. Let’s drop the politics and deal to the issues, all the primary sector depends on the weather, NZ cannot afford climate change.

Graham West, NZ Farm Forestry President



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