Thursday, December 7, 2023

ALTERNATIVE VIEW: Farmers fired up over forests

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I can remember twice farmers have marched on Parliament.
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The first was in 1986 when thousands of farmers marched protesting against Rogernomics. They had a point. The Rural Bank estimated that between eight and nine thousand farmers were in serious financial difficulty.

Then there was the fart tax of 2003 when 400 farmers stopped the traffic. They won.

We’re about to have another march, on November 14, organised by the conservation group 50 Shades of Green.

The group started protesting against good productive farmland being blanket planted in trees and has become a focus for ire at other anti-farming moves.

It says all New Zealand farming communities want is a fair go.

Rural communities are fragile enough now. 

Gutting them by removing the employment and wealth that food production generates and replacing that by planting a tree isn’t smart. It is at best misguided. At worst it is insane.

Four out of five of the largest private landowners in NZ are foreign-owned forestry companies. The total land area owned offshore for forestry is 550,000 hectares.

Putting that in perspective, the farmed area of Northland according to the Environment Ministry and Statistics NZ is 562,847 hectares. Tararua is 427,000 hectares.

Why would you agree to the sale of the family silver to overseas forestry investors, meaning a halt to food production and income here.

The argument local companies aren’t big enough to be involved in large-scale forestry is spurious. 

We have the Government Superannuation Fund and numerous Kiwisaver accounts. The Government could have also floated forestry companies as it did Air NZ and the energy companies. Instead it headed offshore with indecent haste.

The issue is that with the Zero Carbon legislation and the Emissions Trading Scheme investing in forestry is a sure-fire bet for wealthy foreigners.

The economics are simple. Some overseas investors have been paying $6000 a hectare for forestry land. It costs $1000 to plant it at 1000 stems a hectare.

That hectare of pines at age 30 will, using Wairarapa figures, have sequestered 852 tonnes of carbon. At the current price of $25 a tonne that will generate an income of $21,300. The carbon price is set to increase, meaning the final figure will be far beyond that.

That’s against a local mate who pruned and thinned his forest and ended up with $12,000 a hectare at harvest.

And pines absorb carbon until age 50, all 1345 tonnes of it giving a return at current prices of $33,625.

At that point investors can just spray and walk away.

There are two other factors. The first is that Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Simon Upton has said pine trees are not a good counter for carbon dioxide emissions but are fine for short-term greenhouse gases. Why are we planting pines for carbon dioxide then screwing farmers over methane?

The second is Victoria University geography, environment and earth sciences head Professor James Renwick has said pines extend the life of methane in the atmosphere which will, inevitably affect farmers’ methane liabilities. Again, why are we planting them? 

Finally, when you harvest a pine tree the carbon dioxide it absorbed is largely released back into the atmosphere.

So why are we selling precious, productive farmland to overseas people including European aristocrats to take out of food production forever? 

The Overseas Investment Office fined an Austrian countess a paltry $10,000 for breaching the overseas investment rules then let her keep the iconic food-producing farm for blanket forestry.

Tararua Mayor Tracey Collis has been monitoring sales in her region. So far eight properties involving 5500 hectares worth $35 million have been sold just for carbon farming. They are lost to NZ forever. 

She describes the impact as challenging because it happened so fast.

‘It’s impacting rural communities, local employment, sports teams, shearers, fire volunteers and schools.”

There 39 Tararua properties covering 11,618 hectares worth $80 million sold recently. Most are for carbon or forestry farming.

Andy Scott is the chairman of 50 Shades of Green. The former shearer and shearing contractor is co-owner of the Professionals in Masterton.

“If the Government wants to reduce the population of the provinces and the income for New Zealanders they’re going the right way about it,” he says.

“The effect on food production, jobs and rural communities is considerable.

“That’s why 50 Shades of Green is taking its complaints to the city folk.” 

The Government’s freshwater package is another issue for farmers.

Add to that the crazy compliance costs and you have a march.

Asked how he thinks it will go Scott is adamant.

“I’m confident of a good turnout. We’ve support from farmers, shepherds, stock agents, shearers, vets, rural supply companies and those ordinary people concerned about their future. 

“The provinces haven’t had been hit this hard since Rogernomics.”

The meeting starts at Civic Square at 11am and moves to Parliament by 1pm.

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