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CNI Wood Council's Response To Federated Farmers' Call For The Govt To Place Stricter Controls On Forest Planting

This response is made on behalf of members of the Central North Island Wood Council (CNIWC) and is in response to Federated Farmers call for the government to place stricter controls on forest planting.

The CNI Wood Council is somewhat perplexed at NZ Federated Farmers recent press release calling for stricter controls on afforestation on Class 1 to 5 land, and even Class 6 and higher. Here in the Central North Island, it was only a matter of a years ago that farming interests, including Federated Farmers, lobbied heavily for controls to prevent further conversion of forest land to farms. The reason for their concern was the significant impacts on water quality that this would cause. In the pumice country where the conversions were occurring, conversion from forests to dairy farming will result in at least a twenty-fold increase in nitrate leaching rates. Farming interests understood that increasing the area of farmland in already polluted catchments would worsen water quality problems, inevitably resulting in even tighter rules for all their existing farmers. The Waikato Regional Council and Bay of Plenty Regional Council brought in ‘grand parenting’ rules for the Waikato River and Lake Rotorua catchments, which effectively locks in existing forestry, removing the landowner’s property rights to be able to convert to any other land use. Federated Farmers supported the rules in both instances. This has since been replicated at a national level in the National Environmental Standards for Freshwater. Much of the forest to dairy conversion that occurred in Central North Island was on Class 3, 4 and 6 lands. To have Federated Farmers now calling for rules to prevent conversion of farmland to forestry seems to directly contradict their previous position.

At a national level, the National Environmental Standard for Plantation forestry already has rules (supported by the industry) controlling afforestation on the most erodible land (Class 7 & 8) recognising the concerns with harvesting on this highly erodible land, land that were planted historically, was often done by the Crown in order to try and reduce the severe levels of erosion besetting much of NZ’s hill country following clearance for farming or because planning rules at the time saw tree planting as something that should only occur where farming was not possible. We live with the legacy of these historical decisions now. Piecing together the various conflicting components promulgated by Federated Farmers one could be mistaken for the policy stance being simply a continuation of long held anti-tree views. In years past where the primacy of pastoral farming was unquestionable, those views are understandable, but the world has and is changing fast. In many landscapes pastoral farming has struggled to make anything like a reasonable return on capital, and aging farmers have struggled to find a workable succession plan or exit strategy. Climatic variability and the pressing need to confront water quality and climate change issues are all applying new stressors that are coming to bear, and societal trends toward urbanisation are at play in NZ just as they are in the rest of the world.

It is the combination of all these factors, along with massive reductions in stock numbers over the years, increasing processing efficiencies and centralisation that is driving change in the rural sector and their communities. As far as the concern with afforestation rates, the recent upswing in planting rates and afforestation that is occurring now has not even yet reversed the recent levels of deforestation that occurred over the last decade as intensive pastoral agriculture replaced forests. Forestry interests therefore fully appreciate the concerns from famers seeing ‘good farmland’ being planted into forests. Foresters have felt the same way in recent years seeing good forestry land being converted into farms, with all the well-recognised adverse downstream effects that go with that. But we do not believe that introducing arbitrary rule to lock and use land in its current land use patterns regardless of the economic and environmental effects, is the best path forward for NZ. The reality is that forestry is a productive land use, and studies have affirmed that it generates good income and provides jobs and provides for a range of environmental benefits. It is also the best productive land use for some land types, and we unquestionably need more trees integrated into farming landscapes. Farmers themselves are almost certainly going to need to embrace that fact if the Climate Change Commission’s draft recommendations are to come close to being implemented. If NZ fails in that goal, and pastoral agriculture remains a huge component of NZ’s emissions profile – what then? Will farmers be paying hard cash to offset their contribution? If not, who is?

Ultimately NZ needs much more integrated landscapes. To introduce rules that would place constraints on existing farmers, dictating where they can and cannot plant trees, seems to us to be a backward step. To also introduce rules on the easier country (class 1-5 and even 6) leaves us in a situation of effectively deterring afforestation on any land. That will surely not help NZ achieve our climate change or water quality goals.

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