Forestry New Zealand head Julie Collins said with the first year’s plantings still to be confirmed, estimates are about 30,000ha of new land has been committed to forestry on top of the country’s annual replacement of 50,000ha.
“It is not until next year we are projecting we will hit the 100,000ha total mark. We feel we are well on target and it has been a very successful first season.”
Forestry NZ does not track farm versus plantation plantings.
But 197 grants have been made to 110 farmers to plant 15.6m trees covering 9800 hectares.
“We are happy with that figure. We always knew it would take time for the supply chain to gear up to supply trees but also for farmers who need time to determine where and how many trees they would plant on their property.”
Tree planting grants are set at $4000 a hectare for natives and $1500 a hectare for exotics. Two-thirds of the grants are for native plantings.
With only $20m of $100m spent Collins is keen to see more farmers apply.
She acknowledged issues raised by some foresters over red zone erodible land being less likely to be planted in trees and how that risks pushing forestry into traditional pastoral areas.
“We are still providing plantings through erosion control schemes on the East Coast. The erodible categories are quite broad but where it is zoned red people do have to take a lot more care and councils will be more careful when they consent that land. Some common sense needs to be used here.”
The thorny issue of foreign ownership and broad afforestation of pastoral land is another that has arisen in the past year.
“There is a lot of misinformation circulating about this.”
In the year to the end of August 19 approvals were made under the special investment test and eight involved farmland totalling 14,000ha, of which 8000ha was to go into trees.
“The better-quality land has been subdivided into land suitable to stay as grazing and sold.”
Forestry NZ is due review the scheme and the applications made.
Collins said there is anecdotal evidence locals are buying farmland for conversion to forestry and more work is being done to determine the pattern.
However, she denies there are overseas carbon cowboys buying up swathes of pastoral land to lock it in trees for carbon credits.
“To purchase land for carbon capture investors have to go through the same test as for overseas buyers of farmland.”
She also defended the fast-track Overseas Investment Office option available to certain forestry companies that means they do not have to apply separately for every land purchase.
The latest company to use it is Japanese-owned Pan Pac.
“This helps these established companies maintain continuity of wood supply and aims to encourage them to re-invest in plant and machinery, keeping more logs in NZ to be processed further.”
A further $38.8m has been invested in forestry partnership funds in the past year across 36 projects.
“This has included large-scale catchment restoration and funding trainees on basic forestry training. We have put 90 local trainees into the sector in this time.”