East Coast Rural Support Trust Tararua co-ordinator Jane Tylee tells Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor about the building angst in rural communities. PHOTO/EMILY IRELAND

EMILY IRELAND
emily.ireland@age.co.nz

Critical water restrictions, a drought, cattle diseases, and now covid-19 – Tararua farmers are at their wits’ end, stressed, and burnt out.

Add into the mix the “alarming” rate of forestry conversion for carbon credit, and a storm is brewing for rural communities, Tararua Mayor Tracey Collis says.

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor took to the skies on Thursday morning along with the mayor, council chief executive Blair King, and Wairarapa Labour List MP Kieran McAnulty to see the impact of drought and forestry conversion in the Tararua district.

The chopper they were flying in landed at Hood Aerodrome in Masterton on Thursday morning where an informal meeting had been organised with farmers.

East Coast Rural Support Trust Tararua co-ordinator Jane Tylee said a mix of hardships were compounding for farmers in the region.

“Normally, I get five phone calls a week, yesterday [Wednesday] I got five in one day,” she told O’Connor.

“Farmers are feeding out, we’ve got a huge water shortage, we weren’t able to kill stock in a timely manner, and we’re also dealing with M.bovis, a water shortage, and a drought.”

Add covid-19 into the mix, and her job of keeping farmers well mentally was proving to be a challenge, she said.

“What I’m really concerned about is that the people who are isolating themselves are stressed and burnt out now.”

Collis said angst and stress in the rural community were “at a high point”.

Adding to this angst was the rate of forestry conversion which she described as “alarming”.

“We know exactly where the farms are, the hectares that are gone, we’ve determined what is production forestry and what is carbon forestry to understand the issue.

“When we overlaid the maps, we were concerned with the increased fire risk, and it was alarming for me to see. Yes, we want trees on a national scale, but should they all be in one place and impacting on our rural community?”

50 Shades of Green president Andy Scott said productive land was becoming non-productive through forestry conversion.

“It’s going to cost the New Zealand taxpayer about $180 per week per family income for I don’t know how many decades,” he said.

“It’s going towards fat cats in Auckland and overseas – the government is basically giving them $1000 a hectare in carbon credits. You can buy a farm for $8m, and that will have a return of $1m per year for 10,000ha.”

O’Connor said the government was working to lift the income potential on hill country so farmers could legitimately get a sustainable income.

“In the meantime, farmers who are looking to retire and are selling their properties, ask them to consider whether there are flexible opportunities for young farmers to use that land.”