Wednesday, December 6, 2023

ALTERNATIVE VIEW: Trees and crops won’t save planet

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There’s been a lot of good news recently and I’m only surprised the country isn’t shouting from the rooftops. Our prosperity is generated from exports and the story around exports is all good.
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In March our total exports were $5.7 billion, a 19% increase on March last year. 

At the same time imports shrank slightly to $4.8b giving us a surplus of $922 million, the largest since April 2011.

Exports of dairy products increased 22% to $1.4b, followed by meat and edible offal, food preparations including infant formula, forestry products and fruit.

So, take a bow farmers, foresters and orchardists. Without you the country would be stuffed.

That’s the good news. 

After that we can read that horticulture and forestry are replacing dairy as primary sector darlings.

Then we hear investors have planted 1000 hectares in avocados in Northland.

You can almost hear the champagne glasses clinking at Landcorp Towers in Wellington.

There are some issues, however.

Dairy is in production and will be taken out. Avocados need at least three years for commercial harvest so the Northland area will be doing a starve for that time.

Then we have the nitrogen discussion. Putting in trees instead of livestock, that’s what Landcorp and the Greens want – right.


Science tells us avocados use 100-250kg N/ha in California, Israel and South Africa where irrigation is normal.

In Australia growers in areas similar to Northland say they have top yields with 350-400kg N/ha/year to promote growth.

One could also add that avocados have half the protein of parsley.

There’s also the argument up north of the virtues of kiwifruit.

Research suggests kiwifruit can lose more nitrates than dairy, as do onions and potatoes, mixed cropping and forestry.

So, you’re not going to save the planet by banning cows and planting crops.

When it comes to forestry there are many issues we’re not debating.

We are told cropping and horticulture use 4% of our land, scrub occupies 11%, plantation forests 12% and pasture 72%.

Logic suggests any increase in one ensures a decrease in the other. Avocados in Northland will increase by 1000 hectares meaning dairying will decrease by the same amount.

Between 2016 and 2017 forestry increased by 1700 hectares. In our region that doesn’t mean a reduction of 1700 hectares of scrub but of pasture.

Then there’s Shane Jones’ billion trees. That, by my maths, is a million hectares going into trees. It won’t come from scrub but pasture and there will be no return for 30 years.

That means mainstream farming will lose to forestry and suffer for one and a half generations, not to mention the massive effect on rural communities.

I know the Government is hell bent on emissions trading and carbon neutrality but the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Simon Upton’s report tells me pines won’t do that.

I accept his science.

Interestingly, Climate Change Minister James Shaw suggested if he had had the information from Upton’s report he might have done things differently.

That tells me is he doesn’t have a clue. Officials have locked him into one pattern and he’s not going to change – no matter what the evidence to the contrary.

So, we have a complete bugger’s muddle when it comes to farming going forward, a lot of emotion and scarcely any facts.

Getting out of cows into trees or crops won’t fix a lot except to please the fundamentalist vegans.

Taking land out of production for between three and 30 years in the hope of a brave new world won’t achieve much either.

I was highly critical of the previous government’s Te Hono project, where the appointed agricultural elite went to Sanford University and came back with the aim of doubling agricultural receipts by 2025.

They all agreed it was a great idea but they didn’t need a plan or strategy to get there.

As I wrote at the time, I thought it was a complete cop out and I still hold that view.

What we need is a credible, science-based, sustainable strategy that will take us to 2050 and beyond.

I don’t see the will at any level to achieve that. 

What I do see are punitive plans, taxes and directives aimed at agriculture that will be plucked out of thin air, full of sound and fury but that will achieve absolutely nothing. 

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