Thursday, December 7, 2023

ALTERNATIVE VIEW: Labour’s forest plan makes sense

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I received a policy announcement from the Labour Party last week.  It came from forestry spokesman Stuart Nash and Wairarapa Labour list MP Kieran McAnulty. It was interesting for a variety of reasons.
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Simply, it required forestry to be a consented activity for forests larger than 50 hectares.

You’ll know from columns I’ve written in the past that I’m totally against the blanket planting of pines on good farmland. I’m also totally opposed to foreigners buying those farms and putting them in trees. That doesn’t provide food or employment.

So, the Labour policy of blanket planting being a consented activity said a lot.

I have a problem with the rationale behind planting trees.

We plant pines and feel good about it because they absorb carbon dioxide and save the planet. 

We then cut them down, mill them, send them to China and burn them. 

As well as the carbon footprint of all those activities the carbon dioxide we paid for is all returned to the atmosphere. We’ve achieved absolutely nothing except to eventually increase our carbon footprint.

In the meantime, we drive and fly at will because we can – we have pine trees absorbing our pollution.

I have no problem with the right tree in the right place and the Labour policy, if passed and honestly managed, will achieve that.

What I found interesting was that to my knowledge it is the first policy off the rack. That tells me it is a Labour priority.

Labour doesn’t want the blanket planting of pine trees on good farmland by either New Zealanders or foreigners. 

The fact it’s not being pursued in Parliament suggests to me it is NZ First in the form of Shane Jones who put the brake on.

Why would you? 

NZ First proudly tell us they stand first and foremost for Kiwis yet they make it easy for foreigners to buy good farmland and put it into trees, claim the carbon and send the money offshore to offset the carbon obligations in their home countries.

If the same foreigners want to buy a property and farm it they can’t. They can if they plant it, which I find totally absurd.

The policy announcement was popular.

Federated Farmers applauded Labour’s pledge to protect good farmland. It came from the new meat and wool chairman William Beetham.

Fifty Shades of Green chairman Andy Scott was rapt with the announcement.

“We’ve spent a year lobbying for this. It feels good to have been effective. I’m pleased with our campaign. It’s been honest, factual and strategic.

“It goes to show that provincial voices can be heard in Wellington,” Scott said.

Thank heavens for that.

That the policy was timely was highlighted by a recent research project from the Ministry for the Environment that claimed the NZ climate problem has a cheap fix. We could turn the country into a carbon sink. The economic cost would be minimal if there was a cost at all.

The answer according to the MfE brains trust is to plant all hill country in pine trees meaning, they told us, the end of sheep and cattle farming.

I’m totally serious. Go to the MfE website and see it for yourself.

They sagely add converting sheep and beef farmland to pine forest is significantly cheaper than any other option for reducing climate pollution.

Obviously, no-one has told them the sheep and beef sector exports more than $7 billion annually, each and every year. 

There are a few more king hits in the report. 

They tell us the economic cost is high if you plant dairy farms in pine. They’re serious.

Nobody has pointed out that planting trees on pasture actually depletes soil organic matter thus releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Someone should tell MfE.

The classic statement is “If many countries were to move from livestock farming towards forestry this would increase meat prices and reduce wood prices.” Obviously written by a PhD.

There’s got to be something in the water in Wellington even if it is illegal. Someone should tell them you can’t eat wood. 

I wonder if MfE has assessed the personal cost of their nutty suggestion.

There are 30,000 sheep and beef farms with about 100,000 people living on them There are 25,000 employed in the meat industry and 2000 shearers. Add truck drivers, schoolteachers, stock agents, vets and sale yard staff and this insane suggestion by MfE will have a far greater hit on the economy than covid-19.

You would also have about 100,000 good houses rotting among the pines, not to mention rural shops, farm machinery companies and pubs. 

Eketahuna and places like that would cease to exist.

The MfE document is a criminal waste of tax dollars and more fairy tale than fact.

Labour’s forestry policy, therefore, is timely and a breath of reality in an otherwise insane debate.

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