Wednesday, December 6, 2023

NZ’s land use dilemma makes headlines

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US, UK newspapers unpack country ‘falling out of love with sheep’ as carbon forestry threatens iconic farmland.
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New Zealand’s tussle with the role of carbon forestry in its climate change response is making international headlines, with the New York Times and Guardian UK both publishing lengthy articles on what some see as a threat to the country’s iconic sheep farms. 

The Guardian characterised the issue as NZ “falling out of love with sheep”. It cited the steady decline in strong wool prices and a pileup of costly environmental regulations as challenges faced by the industry, with carbon farming seen as the nail in the coffin for many sheep farms.

“A key driver over the last decade has been the rise of forestry, which offers a way to cash out for farmers under increasing economic and political pressure,” it wrote in late June.

“Across the country, farm after farm is transitioning to lucrative pine forestry, fuelled by demand for carbon credits.”

In August last year, in an article titled “How New Zealand’s Climate Fight Is Threatening Its Iconic Farmland”, the New York Times focused  its story on a Gisborne farmer who sold his family property for $11 million more than he paid for it just 10 years ago. 

He sold to a forestry company, and the price he received was the direct result of lucrative carbon credits inflating farm values well past competing prospective farm buyers’ budgets.

The article analyses the effects a move into carbon forestry is having on rural communities, given the lack of employment opportunities and benefits to local areas associated with carbon forestry compared with sheep farming. 

Former Farmers Weekly contributor and Professor Emeritus of Agriculture and Food Systems at Lincoln University Keith Woodford highlighted the permanence of forestry, telling the New York Times that “today’s policy decisions, in response to the long road ahead in addressing climate change, are essentially locking in land use for decades”.

“It is a big change in land use, and we just need to be sure that is what we want,” Woodford said.

David Hall, a climate change policy researcher at Auckland University of Technology, told the Times that the price of credits was likely to pass 100 dollars in the next few years, but that a price of over 200 dollars would be required to prompt changes in the transportation sector that are necessary to meet the carbon-neutral goal.

“Just how many trees New Zealand needs to meet that pledge is unclear. It will depend partly on how quickly the country transforms into a low-emissions economy, with technological advances reducing the need for carbon farming.”

Meanwhile, second-generation Canterbury sheep farmer Hamish Guild said that “he and his family have pledged to do whatever it takes to continue farming their land”, telling the Guardian UK that “we’ve made a decision as a family, we’ll hold on as long as we can”.

“If we were to look at it purely economically, we’d probably be best to put it all into trees,” Guild said. 

“The impact of that on the local community will be catastrophic … If we didn’t have those farms employing young families, that would disappear. And I guess that’s the heart of the community.

“It doesn’t mean blindly keep doing what we’re doing. But we will resist the forestry thing.”

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