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Farmers outraged at forest conversions


‘Forefathers would cringe’

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A groundswell of anger over the conversion of Wairarapa sheep and beef properties to plantation forests is brewing, and farmers will be knocking on the Government’s door to say rural towns will die if the Government keeps up its love affair with trees.

The sale yesterday of farm gear from Hadleigh Station, a sheep and beef property in the Bideford area, is a sign of the times, farmers say.

The farm was owned by Lone Star Farms, a corporate farmer owned by Nelson-based American businessman Tom Sturgess, and has been sold to Roger Dickie New Zealand, a company which organises investments in forestry, farmers say.

William Beetham, President of Federated Farmers Wairarapa, says Hadleigh was a fantastic sheep and beef property and everyone, not just the rural community, should be concerned it will become a plantation forest.

“That land will never go back into productive land, it will stay in trees,” he said.

Beetham says a sheep and beef farm like Hadleigh spends about $500 a hectare every year but a forestry block, apart from initial planting and a bit of pruning, offers up little work or money flow into service towns.

Land turned into forests won’t be logged for 30 years.

“If the entire Wairarapa hill country was forested like this it will turn our towns into ghost towns,” he says.

The farmers are researching the scale of conversion of sheep and beef country to plantation forests and the economic impact it has on service towns.

Farmer Derek Daniell reels off a list of properties converting to forestry. He says it is happening in Pongaroa, in Lagoon Hills south of Martinborough, and near Ngawi.

Government policy is inconsistent – the Government sees long distance tourism as virtuous but it has impacts on the environment,” he said.

“It is easy to attack farming.”

Forestry markets go up and down “but if the tax payer pays for carbon credits you can net more dollars per hectare from farming trees and going on a holiday and not doing anything for years”, he said.

Daniell says “our forefathers would cringe” about what is happening to land they sweated to develop.

Farming had built New Zealand and made it wealthy.

What is happening now makes farmers feel unwanted, he said.

The conversion of quality beef and sheep land to trees is an unintended consequence of the One Billion Trees programme. It was not designed to covert such land.

The subsidies to forestry are putting up the price of rural land, Beetham and Daniell say.

“Because of the significant subsidies available foresters can now afford to pay more for land than they previously could,” Beetham said.

Beetham said one farmer contacted him last week who was so concerned he wants a meeting to be called to discuss the issue.

Beetham said Beef+Lamb New Zealand was compiling information to “show the cost to the community of subsidising forestry”.

“We need information about the cost of these policies to take to government,” he said.

“The potential impact on towns like Masterton, Greytown and Carterton is absolutely huge.

“If Wairarapa loses its farm service economy what does Masterton look like?”

Hadleigh is 1050ha on mainly medium-hill country and had a flock of 8500 Wairere Romney and a beef cow herd of 180 to 200, according to the Lone Star website.

Lone Star general manager Boyd Macdonald has said the sale of Hadleigh had a possession date of February 2019.

Lone Star sold because it had reviewed its strategy and wanted to relocate resources tied up in Hadleigh elsewhere. It owns several farms in the South Island.


  1. It’s not a well-known fact that a grass lawn produces oxygen for our environment at a far greater rate than the same area of trees. One acre of trees with full canopy coverage produces enough oxygen for between 8 and 18 people. The same acre in just grass cover produces enough for 70 people.

    December 2008 Earth 3.0: Solutions for Sustainable Progress
    In the U.S., purchasing carbon credits was being done voluntarily, but by late September, 10 northeastern states agreed to implement the nation’s first “cap and trade” system, which would place an upper limit on the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that industries are permitted to release into the atmosphere. To keep their emissions below this limit, companies would trade carbon credits through an exchange similar to the stock market. A similar cap-and-trade scheme has proved successful at reducing sulfur dioxide emissions—which cause acid rain—in the U.S. since the mid-1990s. And prior to election day, both presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain had called for trading, too.

    Plenty of trading has already been happening, however, at the five-year-old Chicago Climate Exchange. In the first nine months of 2008, more than 60 million credits—one for each ton of carbon—were traded on the exchange. Most trades are tied to projects such as planting trees, protecting tracts of rain forest, installing renewable energy sources and harvesting methane from landfills.

    Rangeland sequestration projects have generated only about 200,000 credits but are on the cusp of a major boom. The rangelands of the American West naturally absorb about 190 million tons of carbon dioxide a year. That’s about what 40 coal-fired power plants emit, but there’s still plenty of room for improvement. Through its Rangelands Soil Carbon Management Offsets Program, the exchange offers a financial incentive for ranchers to increase the amount of carbon dioxide that is absorbed by their lands. Sun Ranch was the first to qualify.

    Soil Sequestration
    Grass absorbs carbon dioxide the same way trees do, but on a smaller scale. Through photosynthesis, each plant takes carbon from the atmosphere and uses it to build more plant matter. When grass dies or trees are cut down, that carbon is released back into the atmosphere. But grass plants also release carbon out of their root tips to fungi in the soil, says Stephen Porder, who teaches biogeochemistry at Brown University. “When those roots die or the fungi die, they’re eaten by some microbe or worm, and a portion of that carbon gets stabilized,” he explains. “It gets stuck onto a clay mineral or a particle and stays in the soil.”

  2. Would not want to upset greens. They might hold balance of power next election. But wait, somone will work out how to recycle plastics into timber like framing and trees will have little value.

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