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Concerns about ag land converting to forestry

WAIROA has several advantages with its farming economy, says Wairoa Federated Farmers branch chairman Sefton Alexander.

“One is we are an extensive hill country area and we do not have extensive dairying.”

The Wai Station beef and sheep farmer said the bigger issue for Wairoa was around tree planting and mass planting on productive rolling hill country and flats.

He said at least two property sales just north of Wairoa were currently awaiting overseas investment commission approval and he expected both properties to be planted in forestry.

“That is our mixed country sheep and beef farming and I guarantee they will be planting it in trees.

“I do not see how that is good for Wairoa,” said Mr Alexander.

While the Kahutia Accord may see a large percentage of plantings in native trees, how long will those jobs last he asked. Mr Alexander said in terms of farming and forestry there was a 10 to one difference in the jobs each industry generated per area of land production. The double standard of the carbon credit scheme in its current format was another concern.

“You can still drive your car and pollute as long as you plant a tree, but farmers cannot claim credits for all the planting they do for erosion protection.”

Air New Zealand was flat-out planting trees, but they continued to pollute, while emissions from sheep and beef production and dairying were much less than from transport emissions, he said. On his property, he routinely planted up to 200 trees each year to help with soil retention and prevent erosion. Mr Alexander was also concerned that good productive farmland was disappearing into forestry in blanket mass planting so multi-national companies could claim carbon credits for 30 years.

“Then they cash in their forestry credits and walk away from their forests.”

Wairoa councillor for Hawke’s Bay Regional Council (HBRC) Fenton Wilson also has concerns around forestry in Wairoa.

“The high price of carbon and the ability of foresters to pay above the odds for farmland is a worrying trend for Wairoa. We are just recovering from land use change from pastoral farming to forestry that occurred in the 1990s.”

Mr Wilson said this led to a district-wide population decline from which Wairoa is just recovering.

“That happened then, but with a resurgence of land-use change to forestry, we will see population decline challenges over the next few years.

“This will impact negatively on our town, because the reality is trees planted en masse do not need stock agents, teachers, shearers, trucking firms or services on the main street of Wairoa.

“Every hectare that converts to forestry has a direct negative impact on current employment, including the viability of AFFCO if enough livestock leaves the district.

“There is a place for trees on the right land class with a sustainable mix of pastoral farming.

“The objectives of the Kahutia Accord are based on better outcomes for the land but lack any detail around the negative effects on our economy with a change of land use, and the accord does not talk about ‘right tree, right place’.

“It is that lack of detail and no further options to compare against that made me vote against the ratepayers’ carbon credits going into Kahutia.”

The Wairoa HBRC councillor said the government’s ambition to plant 1.5 million hectares in trees to become carbon neutral (mainly long term carbon sinks) will be the death nell of population growth in Wairoa and other small communities around the country — just as it has been up the East Coast since Cyclone Bola occurred in 1988, where schools and businesses closed.

“Our community needs to understand the challenges coming our way,” said Mr Wilson.

Wairoa Federated Farmers chairman Sefton Alexander. Hawke's Bay Today picture