The scale and pace of sheep and beef land being purchased for forestry is even higher than first thought, a new report says.
An updated Orme & Associates report on land use change from pastoral farming to large-scale forestry shows the amount of land sold in 2021 soared 66% compared to the previous year.
Beef + Lamb New Zealand (BLNZ) CEO Sam McIvor said the report will be alarming for farmers, rural communities and New Zealanders in general, who are already concerned about the conversion of food producing sheep and beef land into carbon farming.
“The Orme & Associates report was commissioned by BLNZ two years ago to track the amount of land purchased for afforestation and taken out of pastoral production. It initially showed more than 52,000ha of land was purchased for forestry interests in 2021,” he said.
“However, the latest revised data shows that figure to be more than 63,000ha, a 66% increase on 2020 and up from 7000ha in 2017.”
Uncertainty over policy changes led to a decrease to 36,000ha in 2022, but McIvor said this figure is likely to increase because there is a backlog of applications sitting with the Overseas Investment Office (OIO).
“This takes the total to more than 200,000ha of sheep and beef farms bought over the last five years, which is a significant concern for the sheep and beef sector and rural communities,” he said.
McIvor said the scale of change is far more than what is recommended by the Climate Change Commission and will have a negative impact on rural communities, food production and export income, which affects all New Zealanders.
“New Zealand is one of the only countries in the world that allows fossil fuel emitters to offset 100% of their emissions,” he said.
“The government is currently consulting on changes to the Emissions Trading Scheme, and it needs to act.
“BLNZ is not anti-forestry, there is absolutely a place for it and for some offsetting. We know many farmers are interested in integrating trees into their farms, but there is a need for some balance.”
McIvor said the impact of land use change is now being reflected in livestock numbers with Statistics New Zealand’s 2022 Ag Census data showing the national sheep flock to be 25.3 million as of June 2022, a drop of 400,000 from the previous year, with numbers likely to fall further due to new plantings.
The Ministry for Primary Industries’ Afforestation and Deforestation report, which focuses on larger scale planting, supports BLNZ’s findings.
“While whole farm sales seemed to have slowed last year, new plantings continued at pace with another 64,000ha of new forestry planted in 2022,” said McIvor.
“MPI have also surveyed foresters’ intentions for 2023 and estimate a further 88,000ha of new planting in 2023. This data reinforces how quickly farms are being converted.
“The government must urgently work with the sector to implement limits before it’s too late.”