Lack of decision support tools in forestry
Recent comments by officials and “experts” on planting one billion trees, the plight of hill country forestry and woody debris flows, have not touched on the total lack of decision support tools so that farmers and other local forest investors can make the right decisions. Without engaging a costly consultant, farmers are expected to take a risk on a 25-year land commitment in an information vacuum.
Unlike the plethora of levy and government funded systems and tools available to farmers on agricultural decisions, there is next to nothing on forestry. The forest grower levy is mostly consumed by overseas owned forestry corporates looking to protect and enhance their assets, to maintain a social license to operate in a foreign land. As a result the forest levy doesn’t get spent expanding a local forest industry.
Despite 60 years of New Zealand forestry research, current decision support tools and predictive models are not accessible to farmers or are too complex to use easily. This is a significant impediment to helping farmers and other forest investors understand the basic drivers of forest profitability and importantly the risks and costs associated with steep or remote sites.
The much over used and parroted phrase “the right tree, in the right place, for the right reason” doesn’t really help land owners, or the government, move forward and find answers. Is there anyone on the Minister of Forest’s Advisory Group with a forestry qualification or the farm advisory experience to highlight and help address this fundamental impediment? With modern IT systems, support on land use decisions is very possible, e.g. a web-based system that integrates farm maps, land resource information, farm plans and forestry options to provide both economic and environmental risk analysis.