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New Zealand Farm Forestry - Hodgson Speech

New Zealand Farm Forestry Association Annual Conference
Telford Rural Polytechnic, Balclutha
Embargoed until delivery, 8pm 10 April 2000.

Hon Pete Hodgson
Minister of Forestry

Mr President, delegates and guests. I am delighted to be here. Thank you for your invitation. I’ve been looking forward to this evening for quite a while.

When you formed up in Northland in 1957, I was a seven year old living in Whangarei. Back then, most people thought that knocking trees over was smarter than planting them. Most people thought that farming was about cows and sheep and not much else and that if anyone was going to plant trees they would plant large areas of radiata, not pockets of eucalypt, let alone kauri.

Members of the Farm Forestry Association have progressively changed all that. Now forestry on farms is common to the point of being normal. Mixed species forestry has lost much of its novelty value. Farm forestry plays an integral, accepted and assumed role in sustainable land management. The skills needed to grow acacias or cypress are now widespread, our knowledge of microclimates has expanded and we have developed new markets involving new species for new products that range from fine furniture to firewood.

Pioneers of farm forestry have a lot to feel proud of. Motivated by a love of forestry they have rolled back the frontiers of knowledge in so many different ways. When my uncle planted just a few trees on his dairy farm in Kaitaia around 1957, he was regarded as sufficiently different that he ended up with his photo in the paper.

Things have surely changed.

They will keep changing, of course. There is one obvious dominant change that is happening already. It is not about new knowledge, new frontiers, new species or new markets. It is new volume. Sheer volume. And the issues of volume are two-fold.

The first issue is that we as a nation are facing a wall of wood. I was told off for using that phrase, a wall of wood, by a forester a few months ago. Rightly so. It is not a wall of wood he said. It is a wondrous wave of opportunity. And so it is. But it is a mighty big wave and we need to prepare for it.

The second issue is that the thick end of that increase in volume will not be coming from forestry corporates, but from small woodlot owners. That is, from farm foresters. More to the point small woodlots will continue to provide a significant proportion of our timber supply, at least for the next 20 years, by which time small woodlot owners will provide the majority of the industry’s raw material.

The majority. Think on that.

Back in 1957 when the pioneers were dropping a few eucalypts into the ground up north, the largest plantation forest in the world was in New Zealand: Kaingaroa.

Within my lifetime not only will New Zealand forestry have grown in size beyond all recognition, farm forestry or woodlot forestry will have supplanted Kaingaroa and all the corporate forests like it to become the predominate section of the industry.

Those are big changes indeed. They raise a few issues.

For the Association it means that a shift in emphasis to marketing is needed. The major era of harvesting is upon us and it is an era that has no apparent end. The Association must be at the table with other forestry interests debating the issues.

Yours, individually, is typically a small resource. Five hectares here; fifty hectares there.

Yours, collectively, is a huge resource, and it is one that is largely uncommitted. That is important.

For example, one reason why a US company built a saw mill in Wanganui was the availability of uncommitted logs from nearby company forests and woodlots.

As it happens, it was also encouraged by the district council through the availability of suitably zoned land. That is another story, about how councils can, through the RMA process, help or hinder regional development. The Farm Forestry Association voice continues to be important in that area.

I am aware of the letter you have received from Wood New Zealand, because I’ve seen it. I should not seek to influence your decisions regarding your relationship with Wood New Zealand. That is your business. But I do believe alliances such as Gerald Hunt proposes are going to become remarkably important for the Association. I therefore invite you to take a very close look at it. Farm foresters must look at new alliances for harvesting and marketing.

But addressing the new issues of harvesting and marketing cannot come at the expense of the other matters your Association is renowned for.

In other words the urgent must never crowd out the important.

I know the Association has a number of working groups on special purpose timbers, notably Acacia and Cypress, and on indigenous forestry. The research and development focus of these groups puts them at the forefront of the knowledge base in these areas. And you aren’t secretive with the knowledge. One of your strengths is your active branch organisation. Branch field days are a very good technology transfer method. I think the way the Association supports both members and non-members in “hands-on” demonstrations is just great.

Similarly I feel it is important for you to keep a collective voice on topics where the issues for small forest growers are not necessarily exactly the same as those for large forestry companies. Some examples include certification, biosecurity, research and alternative species. These are all areas in which the Association has provided valuable input, and I hope will continue to do so.

Making that valuable input - having a voice - comes at a cost, and I’m sure that the structure of the Association, and associated issues, will be a topic for some good debate at your AGM. As the Minister of Forestry I should record without any hesitation that the Government is very aware of, and very appreciative of, what the Farm Forestry Association can contribute to its members, to regional development and to New Zealand forestry.

A few words about the Government’s indigenous forest policy, so that if there is any residual confusion now, there won’t be in two minutes' time.

You will be aware of the changes the government has initiated for the West Coast. The Government has decided to phase out timber production from Crown-managed indigenous forests. However the Government does not oppose timber harvesting from privately owned indigenous forests under the provisions of the Forests Act. In short we have taken a decision not to log any ecologically significant indigenous forests which we manage. We want to put those forests into the conservation estate. Other owners, such as yourselves, can make their own decision whether to conserve, or to harvest.

To Farm Forestry Association members with indigenous forest I would say that there are opportunities not only to develop management systems with small but high value levels of timber harvest, but also to offer your experience and assistance in the conservation of our remnant indigenous forests. I’m aware of some pretty smart people who are learning, and teaching, some of the finer points of sustainable indigenous forestry. My job is to allow for that learning by doing and that means the law under which you must operate allows for a degree of experimentation.

That will do. I’ll conclude my comments by saying that I am really looking forward to spending what’s left of the evening with you. Many of you have written to me in recent months and I am hoping to put some faces to names.

Thanks for the opportunity to speak tonight. It is clear you are going to have an exceptional few days, from kelp to tussock. I wish you well in your endeavours, in the next few days and in the future.


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