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Farming: Unintended consequences

18 Jun 2019

Amongst farmers there is plenty of talk about good farm land going into forestry, of the radiata pine variety.

The talk, and it is just talk at this stage, is that up to a third of the sales are by overseas interests waiting for the special fast-track path through the Overseas Investment Office.

There is concern in the Wairarapa about 8 farms selling recently to go into radiata pine, and not just the unproductive parts of the farms. Buildings and fences get laid bare to make way for forestry. It takes 30 years for pine trees to mature and that is 30 years without the annual crop of lambs and cattle helping to feed the world.

I saw recently on the news, the government suggesting to a farmer protesting changing land use in the North Island, that local authorities should take the lead in managing the reversion of decent sheep and beef country going into pines. He wasn’t too impressed.

Then there is the wilding pine problem. Up till now wilding pines have been seen as a problem and money has been spent on eradicating them. Will the same effort go into that area?

1 billion trees to be planted in 10 years (2018 to 2028). What I didn’t realise is that half of those trees are being planted anyway by forest owners replanting after harvesting. So, it is 500,000,000 extra trees that plan to be planted, or 50 million trees a year for ten years. That equate to 50,000 ha of new tree planting every year for the next ten years. To put that in context, there is an estimated 1.7m ha in forest production now.

Pine Forest

“We did more than that in the 1990s,” says Forest Owners Association President Peter Weir.

In order to get the 50,000ha planted in forest Weir suggests that 500 farmers with 100ha of unproductive land plant trees every year for ten years and we’d do it.

‘The right tree in the right place at the right time’ is the mantra being trotted out and it certainly plucks a string in my heart.

By the way, the definition of a ‘tree’ is a woody perennial that can grow to at least 5 meters so my fruit trees don’t count!

Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) website has a progress chart of the number of trees planted since the goal was set in 2018. We are up to 61m estimated and remember it was 50m new plantings over and above the replanting that is required every year. We may be sort of on track.

Apparently 13% of the trees they are counting so far are natives; 87% are exotic.

Did anyone know that there is also a project by the Sustainable Business Network to plant 1,000,000 metres of stream banks with natives and so far, 52,000 metres have been funded. They are looking for donations and they take care of the planting and after-planting care.

DairyNZ also has a Riparian Planner to help farmers plan their riparian planting and I am pretty sure that if you plant between 1ha and 300ha of native trees you can apply to the Billion Trees program for some funding. I see $4000 per ha being talked about. There is different rate of $1,800ha for manuka or kanuka for erosion control or as a nurse crop for indigenous forest.

Keep asking great questions …

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