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Farm to forest

Birch Hill is the latest Wairarapa farm to be sold to forestry. PHOTO/GRACE PRIOR

Second farm sold to Austrian company for trees
Trees to be harvested in three decades

Another Wairarapa farm has been sold to plant in trees – the second farm sold to an Austrian company this year.

An Overseas Investment Office [OIO] decision made public this month confirmed that Birch Hill, a 1500-hectare South Wairarapa farm, had been sold to Austrian company Cerberus Vermogensverwaltung for forestry.

“The applicant intends to convert the land to a plantation forest over approximately 1138ha of the land best suited to planting,” the OIO decision said.

“The remaining land will be allocated to infrastructure, native plantings, and various setbacks.”

The OIO had already approved the purchase of Birch Hill earlier this year.

The sale came after Earlyhurst, a 944-hectare sheep and beef farm near Masterton, sold to the same company for more than $15 million earlier this year.

The OIO withheld the asset value of Earlyhurst under a section of the Official Information Act that stated the information “would be likely to unreasonably prejudice the commercial position of the person who supplied or who is the subject of the information”.

A Bayleys advertisement for Birch Hill Station said the property had offered opportunities for on-farm tourism and holiday visits.

“The bush appeal includes 95ha of QEII covenant protection out of the 120ha of fenced-off bush area.”

Bayleys said land at the rear of the farm was leased to Genesis Energy for a wind farm.

The OIO decision said the company intended to subdivide and sell a 31-ha area of the Birch Hill farm that contained houses and was not needed for forestry activities.

“Planting is intended to commence on the land in 2022, and the trees will be harvested in approximately 28 years.”

The decision said the land was categorised between Land Use Capability Class 3 and 7, with the majority above 5, meaning it was only deemed useful for pastoral or forestry land.

Wairarapa farmer Mike Butterick said the sale was not news to anyone. His concern now was about policing the harvest of trees.

“Who makes the call 30 years from now when the trees are ready to take out and they haven’t been?”

He said word in the community was that about seven more farms could have been bought for forestry, though not necessarily to overseas buyers.

In November 2021, The Times-Age requested change of ownership information for six Wairarapa stations, including Earlyhurst.

The OIO confirmed later that month that there were no overseas consent applications related to any of the properties listed at the time.

In February 2022, the government announced that it was “streamlining” the OIO’s forestry test to end overseas investors’ plans to convert farms to permanent forests.

The change would apply only to forestry conversions where overseas investors aimed to acquire farmland.

Minister of Finance David Parker said there would be no change to investments in pre-existing forests.

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