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Jobs, economy take hit through afforestation

Large-scale conversion of sheep and beef farms to forestry as a result of the Zero Carbon Bill will have a significant negative impact on rural New Zealand, according to research released by Beef and Lamb New Zealand.

An analysis of Wairoa, where 8486 hectares of sheep and beef farmland has been or is in the process of being converted to forestry, shows forestry provides fewer jobs in rural communities than sheep and beef farms.

Rural consultancy BakerAg was commissioned by Beef and Lamb NZ to compare the economic and employment effects of the conversion of sheep and beef farms into forestry.

The report, “Social-economic impacts of large-scale afforestation on rural communities in the Wairoa district”, found that if all the sheep and beef farms in Wairoa were converted to forestry, then Wairoa would see a net loss of nearly 700 local jobs.

That would be the equivalent of one in five jobs in Wairoa and net $23.5 million less spent in the local economy when compared to blanket forestry, excluding harvest year.

“This report illustrates the huge risks of unintended consequences from poorly designed policy and emissions targets, which will incentivise a high level of afforestation and result in a devastating impact on rural communities,” said Beef and Lamb NZ chief insight officer Jeremy Baker.

“The current targets for methane are excessive given the science on what is needed to limit warming, while at the same time there is unfettered access to offsets for fossil fuel emitters in the Zero Carbon Bill, despite fossil fuel consumption having to actually decrease.

“The net result is that it’s a real possibility that many districts like Wairoa across the country could see all their sheep and beef farms converted into forestry with disastrous consequences for the local community,” Mr Baker said.

“This is why Beef and Lamb NZ is supporting science-based and sensible methane reduction targets and restrictions on the amount of carbon dioxide that can be offset by trees.”

These concerns were reinforced by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, who forecast that under a net zero target for carbon dioxide, there would be only a 40 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.

Some 5.4 million hectares of trees would likely be planted to offset the remaining 60 percent of fossil fuel emissions, equating to 70 percent of the effective area in sheep and beef farming.

“Although forestry does provide some employment opportunities, these typically come in the final year of a pine plantation at harvest — usually the 30th year — and the nature of these jobs often sees them performed by crews who are based out of larger provincial centres rather than smaller rural towns,” Mr Baker said.

“After the first harvest, the carbon value of the first is lost, leaving the residual economic contribution of that land at the mercy of international log prices.

“It is also worth noting that most of the benefit from incentives such as carbon credits go to the landowners rather than local communities.

“Forestry owners frequently do not live in the rural communities where their plantations are, as opposed to sheep and beef farms which are typically family-owned and have on average five people living on them,” he said.

“The sheep and beef sector is willing to play its part to meet New Zealand’s international climate change commitments.?It has already reduced its emissions by 30 percent since the 1990s — one of the few sectors to have achieved this.

“Sheep and beef farms also have some 1.4 million hectares of native forest and 180,000 hectares of plantation pine on them, so it’s important to build on this base and integrate sensible tree planting into sheep and beef farms rather than see wholesale conversion, which is socially, economically and environmentally unsustainable.”

TREES VERSUS PASTURE: A report commissioned by Beef and Lamb NZ says large-scale conversion of sheep and beef farms into forestry would cost lost jobs. File picture