Monday, April 22, 2024

Forestry extends olive branch

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Production trees have potential to be farming’s biggest friend, Forest Owners’ Association president Phil Taylor says. “I could be seen to be here to wave the olive branch to the farming sector,” Taylor said in opening his address to the Primary Industries NZ Summit.
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“I believe we have an opportunity to work together going forward, to diffuse the angst forestry and other primary industry sectors have surfaced over the past four years.

“Forestry is open to engage with any other sector to see us prosper over the next 30 years and beyond.”

He says the integration of forestry and farming is important to primary industries, it is powerful for economic and environmental reasons.

“Forestry is a major economic force in our economy and it is a major environmental plus for many farmers,” he said.

“As a nation, and a planet, the challenge of the climate change target net carbon by 2050 is the debate – forestry for some has become the change point.

“The arguments of trees versus food production are misleading and detract from opportunities to improve the sustainability and profitability of the wider farming sector.

“Forestry, in a number of guises, will have some value-add complement by land-use and protect farming for food producers, not threaten it.”

Not only do plantation forests provide an offset for farmers’ greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, but they are a valuable farm production option as well.

The harvesting of woodlots on farms is currently accounting for up to 40% of NZ pine harvest.

“Many farmers will be doing well out of their investment in planting decades ago, with record strong prices and a significantly favourable international supply and demand imbalance,” he said.

Trees can be used not just for timber, but also to deliver carbon lockup, erosion control and water purification as well as for shade, fodder, and food crops.

“Trees will be a major part of New Zealand’s developing bioeconomy and already there is an escalating appetite for wood to use in milk driers to supply an $8 billion milk powder export market,” he said.

“Dairy farmers may become competitors with their own companies because of the need for wood chips in cow standoff pads.”

Taylor says there is common ground across the primary sector on issues such as biosecurity, health and safety, labour availability, more indigenous biodiversity and an objective, timely and science-based regulatory system, which includes access to CRISPR gene technology.

He acknowledges the forest industry relies heavily on its exports of logs to China, but says most of the primary sectors’ exports are in the same boat.

All three of the dairy, meat and wool and seafood industries are nearly 40% reliant on China for their export markets.

The Forest Industry Transformation Plan would not only see more products, such as biofuels and innovative engineered wood products, but more sawmills producing more timber for domestic and export, thus reducing the reliance on the log market.

He signalled though that this transformation is likely to lead to future concentrations of plantation forestry in some regions to get the maximum benefits out of transport, infrastructure and skills.

Taylor says the role of permanent carbon-only forests should only be on erosion-prone or remote land, which could not be productively used for either farming or timber harvesting.

“It makes no sense to me to plant on good productive land, there is plenty of sub-land to plant forestry,” he said.

He cautioned if the Climate Change Commission’s reliance on 380,000ha of exotic trees being planted before 2035 is not met, then the Government of the day could need to cut livestock numbers to balance the GHG books.

“Undershooting the Government’s 2050 net carbon-neutral target is not an option and if trees are not planted more difficult choices will be required,” he said.

“I’m sure that would not go down well with many of you.

“There is opportunity now to reach out to other sectors, we need to stop looking at the difference between us and harbour the fact we can share experience, skills and knowledge and work together – let’s make this happen.”

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