Sufficient seedlings to plant more than 100,000ha at around 1000/ha have been grown and sold with forward orders.
This comes after an extended period in which radiata seedling production stayed within a range of 40-50m annually.
Over the past five years demand has sky-rocketed for replanting harvested exotic forests and for gaining carbon credits with new plantings.
Marginal land for livestock farming has been retired and planted in trees because of environmental reasons.
NZ Plant Producers chief executive Matt Dolan says massive consolidation in nurseries had occurred since peak pine seedling production of around 130m in the mid-1990s.
Operators had bought and adapted new technologies to increase their efficiency and ease the load on skilled labour.
“It has been a stellar effort from nurseries to expand and meet demand,” Dolan said.
According to the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), seedlings sales jumped from 60m in 2018 to 90m in 2019 and were forecasted to exceed 100m in 2020 and grow further in 2021.
Northland Forest Nursery near Kaikohe has sold out this season of 9.5m radiata seedlings in advance from seedlings to be lifted and dispatched between May and August.
Most were bought by forestry companies replanting established sites, but there has been a strong and growing demand from carbon companies on new land, nursery owner Kevin Strawbridge says.
In contrast to five years ago when pine planting was in the doldrums and he grew about 7m annually, demand is now very strong, from both planned and spontaneous buying.
Carbon credits had made the planting of marginal farming country much more attractive and Crown Forestry was also active with the One Billion Trees programme.
Strawbridge says forest nurseries all round the country had lifted their numbers.
Prices for seedlings had risen modestly to reflect higher nursery costs for seed, genetics royalties and for labour.
Peter Harrington of Rotorua Forest Nursery says 10m seedlings to be lifted this winter had been pre-sold and that orders for next season were filling up quickly.
About 60% of seedlings would be for replanting existing forests and the remainder were going into new land all over the North Island.
Prices had increased slightly to reflect increased wage rates and Harrington says indicative prices were around 40c/stem for lower quality and 55c for higher quality.
Both price levels were volume dependent.
Nelson-based Appletons Tree Nursery said it was selling more orders of mixed species rather than all natives or all exotics.
Nursery manager Keith Roberts says the demand for seedlings has been unprecedented and suggests a need for expansion of nurseries in the future.
“In general, our growing capacity and our seedling numbers should be increasing to meet this demand, but we are not quite there yet,” Roberts said.
“Orders are coming in every day from all over New Zealand.”
Appletons sells 700 different species, consisting of about 1.6m native and exotic seedlings annually and between 4m and 5m radiata seedlings, all bare rooted.
Counting towards 1 billion trees
One Billion Trees planted in 10 years – how are we doing?
Te Uru Rākau (Forestry New Zealand) says that since the 2018 announcement of the programme, 258 million trees had been planted by the end of 2020.
The ministry claimed progress of one-quarter of the way towards its one billion target.
However, all trees sold and distributed were included in the statistics, not just new plantings from the Government incentive.
Funds had been committed for 45m trees to be planted between 2018 and 2028, of which 70% were native species and 30% exotic.
During 2020 it was estimated that 95.4m trees were planted, according to the ministry.
It is an annual rate that would, if repeated, get close to achieving the target.
At January 6, funding of $68m had been approved to 582 applicants.
But on March 26 the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) website posted a funding application update.
“We cannot accept any more applications because the number of applications in progress will exceed the limit of the fund if approved,” the update stated.
“If you have applied for funding, we will contact you to discuss your application.
“Existing signed contracts will progress as scheduled.”