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Farmers fear forest conversions

A stark picture has been painted of the dual impact on the Wairoa district of farmland being converted to forestry, and incentives in the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) that encourage this trend.

At last week’s Federated Farmers Wairoa branch annual meeting, Wairoa Hawke’s Bay regional councillor Fenton Wilson asked who knew what the future would look like in terms of how people farmed and the regulations.

“We have a lot of born-again environmentalists running the council.”

With reference to the council’s tree-planting programme for the region, he said you would not know if you had the right tree in the right place for 10 years.

“Some of the work that needs to be done around slope stability is woefully lacking.”

He said $100,000 of funding for the fencing of riparian areas was not based on anything and was governance-driven.

“What was the right amount of sediment? What was there 150 years before the fern and trees were burned down?”, he asked.

On the Wairoa Hard, it was the same as it was 80 years ago, he said.

The branch discussed the acceleration of farmland going into forestry this year and the socio-economic effects of losing Affco, if stock units fell as a result of the forestation and loss of pastoral land.

Outgoing Federated Farmers branch chairman Sefton Alexander said it had not been such an issue until three to four months ago.

Nearly 3000ha in the Wairoa district was waiting for Overseas Investment Office approval and East Coast data was already out of date, according to branch members.

Former Cricklewood Road farmer and longtime Federated Farmers branch member Jean Martin said the “citified” regional council had stuck a label on them as erosion-prone country.

She saw a slip come down a steep slope in the September rain last year, and now it was already grassed over.

Ohuka farmer and Wairoa Mayor Craig Little said not a lot of those slips made it to a river. The regional council chief executive and chairman needed to come out and see this country.

“The challenge is to get them up to Wairoa and take them around to see a few farms.”

Nuhaka farmer Mr Alexander said the real concern was the incentives for forestry in the ETS.

Mrs Martin said this Government had come up with another incentive and forestry buyers would offer so much more for farmland. She pointed out that there was a five to one differential between forestry and agriculture in terms of people employed.

Other figures discussed included 1.5 people per 1000ha of forestry compared to 7.6 people for the same area in farming.

Kohitane’s Dennis Munro said the Government was arguing that science did not count.

Mr Little said he had told Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at Waipatu Marae last month that she knew what had happened on the East Coast with forestry.

“She came back and said she understood that.

“We have to get National behind this.”

Rangiahua farmer Dave Read said if they wanted to stop forestry, the No.1 issue was the price of carbon.

“Money will come and go. What is really driving this is the price of carbon.”

The way to tackle this was not to allow forestry to offset fossil fuel emissions, he said. Discussion included how it took 30 litres of diesel to get 1 tonne of timber to China.

“Who can say a forest is going to be there forever? No one can,” said Mr Read.

“It takes away the focus from dealing with carbon now and is just delaying it.”

Mr Read said the big thing in the Wairoa district was carbon credits.

According to Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Simon Upton’s report, by 2075, an area (5.4 million ha) equal to half of the North Island could be planted in forestry, Mr Read said.

This was because the Government had made a commitment with the Paris Accord, Mr Read said.

Mr Alexander said, “either we do this as a country or the Government has to borrow to buy billions of carbon credits”.

“The smart people are not having a bar of the billion-tree programme, they are going straight to the carbon credits.”

With the rules changing on ETS, he said there was some serious money to be made from Waihua through to Kokohu Station and the Wairarapa Hadleigh Station.

“They are getting big dollars.”

Other forestry concerns were methane sitting above the forests in a cloud, with the trees releasing a chemical which stops it breaking down; the dark canopy trapping heat; and then there was the threat of wild fires. This all had a negative effect on carbon sequestration.

Mr Read said the current ETS scheme was not going to achieve zero carbon because it was not counting air travel or embedded carbon in car manufacturing.

“The situation has been invented by financiers and is not going to address climate warming.”

The branch meeting urged Federated Farmers to publicly focus the climate change debate on warming effects and to urge the Government to heed Mr Upton’s climate change report.

At the meeting Mr Alexander stepped down as chairman, with Waiatai farmer Allan Newton taking over the role.

Carbon-hungry: For the most part, exotic trees, such as pines and eucalypts, are needed to achieve climate change goals, writes forestry consultant Peter Clark. File picture