Foresters say afforestation report raises more questions than it answers

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The Forest Owners Association said in a statement that the recent Beef+Lamb-commissioned survey on forest planting rates is nowhere near robust nor detailed enough to draw a conclusion that the government should impose controls over the rate of forest planting.

Forest Owners Association President Phil Taylor said the Beef+Lamb report was a worthy contribution to the land use debate, but that it raised more questions than it answered.

“Government data is contradicting the report,” said Taylor. “Official figures clearly point to a decline in the area of the exotic plantation forest estate, and so new planting is not keeping pace with the land area going out of forestry.”

The plantation forest estate had shrunk by 162,000 ha in the past 18 years, mostly to dairy farms, said Taylor, who noted that there had always been changing land use.

“Our concern on current figures, would be that the Climate Change Commission’s reliance on an expansion of the exotic forest area by another 380,000 hectares by 2035, to meet the 2050 greenhouse gas target, is going to fall well short.

“On top of that, the Climate Change Commission anticipates there will need to be more use made of wood in construction, and its extensive utilisation in biofuels to replace fossil fuel.”

Risk of not meeting carbon targets

Taylor said that meant any government restrictions on afforestation would risk New Zealand not meeting its carbon targets.

“By the time that shortfall becomes clear it will be too late to fix it,” said Taylor.

The National Exotic Forest Description, which is published by the Ministry for Primary Industries, recorded a reduction in the net stocked area in the year to April 2020 of 31,347 ha, after allowingfor 19,000 ha of new afforestation.

There is between 7.5 and 10.4 million hectares of hill country farm land, and if a conversion of a mere 380,000 ha is a threat, then the meat and wool industries has more serious issues to deal with than just a few profitable trees to worry about. – Graham West

The President of the Farm Forestry Association, Graham West, said farmers should be free to continue to make economic decisions on whether they want to use their own land to plant trees and on what land classes.

A recent Ministry for the Environment study has shown that there is currently 313,000 ha of plantation forests on farmland.

Forestry stacks up well as a land use

“And that makes sense for farmers,” said West. “The recent PwC report was clear that forestry stacked up very well as a land use and so forestry benefits the economies of local communities.

“There is between 7.5 and 10.4 million hectares of hill country farm land, and if a conversion of a mere 380,000 ha is a threat, then the meat and wool industries has more serious issues to deal with than just a few profitable trees to worry about.”

West said the report was actually positive about the integrated use of trees on farms and that land sales to forestry are giving better capital gain, which allows movement up the farming ladder or retirement.

BakerAg, the report’s author, stated: ‘If farmers already have experience with trees and forestry, or are confident of the support available in what may not be core business to date, then indicators are this will provide further confidence to consider investing in forestry as part of the land-use mix.”

Taylor said Beef+Lamb automatically assumed that farming would always be a better and more productive land use than forestry.

“On the tougher hill country, Beef+Lamb are now demanding that even if livestock can barely survive on that land, then tree planting should still be restricted,” said Taylor.”

Very little known

According to Taylor, the report showed that very little was known about the extent of carbon-only forest planting in recent times.

“The Beef+Lamb report estimates this non-harvest forest planting is about 30 percent of the total planting.  But nobody has any real idea at the moment. If this carbon planting is on land which could be productive for timber or livestock then we would have concerns that the land should be used better.”

“After all, there’s at least a million ha of land in New Zealand, which is too remote or erosion prone for farming or for production forestry and so is ideal to use for locking up carbon, but not useful for anything else.”

Taylor said it was important to realise that while forestry is hugely important in sequestering carbon produced by industrial emitters over the next three decades, trees do not offer a continuing long-term answer to greenhouse gas emissions through offsetting.

“We have no issues with either Beef+Lamb or the Climate Change Commission in their same view that the only effective long-term response to the threat of climate change is to reduce those source emissions, wherever they come from. Farmers who are expected to produce this extra value strongly demonstrated against regulations recently. They don’t need more restrictions.”

Read: Foresters concerned over cap on trees

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