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Concern over rise in land conversions

New research shows the number of the country’s sheep and beef land purchased for forestry is “higher than first thought,” according to a recent media release put out by Beef and Lamb New Zealand [BLNZ] this month.

As cited by BLNZ, an updated Orme and Associates report on land-use change from pastoral farming to large-scale forestry shows the amount of land sold for this purpose in 2021 increased by 66 per cent compared to the previous year.

BLNZ chief executive Sam McIvor said the report will be alarming for farmers, rural communities, and New Zealanders in general, who are already concerned about the conversion of food-producing sheep and beef land into carbon farming.

“The Orme & Associates report was commissioned by BLNZ two years ago to track the amount of land purchased for afforestation and taken out of pastoral production. It initially showed more than 52,000ha of land was purchased for forestry interests in 2021,” he says.

“However, the latest revised data shows that figure to be more than 63,000ha, a 66 per cent increase on 2020 and up from 7000ha in 2017.”

In Wairarapa, more than 22,000ha was sold in 2021 and 2022 alone.

Last year, 3589ha was sold in the Masterton District, 1055ha was sold in South Wairarapa District, and 3895ha was sold in Tararua District.

McIvor said, “25,000ha per year leaving sheep and beef production equates to a loss of $490 million annually [at year 16] at the farm gate. After 16 years, this would amount to $4.2 billion cumulatively lost. This is a $709 million loss annually in export value [at year 16] and a $6 billion loss cumulatively over 16 years. This would total 400,000ha over 16 years. Currently, 200,000ha have been purchased over the past five years.”

Federated Farmers president David Hayes told the Times-Age his organisation is concerned about the amount of good productive farmland that is being lost to forestry.

“Wairarapa Federated Farmers are also very concerned that Wellington Regional Council may adopt its own climate policies that far exceed what is set out at a national level,” he said.

“Federated Farmers support the need to reduce long-lived gases [CO2] to net zero by 2050, and we support the need to reduce short-lived gases [methane]. However, these regional policies are not based on the science for methane and are not aligned to the national level objectives.

“When farmers move out and foresters move in, it devastates rural communities. The populations decline and before you know it you don’t have enough people to sustain the schools, shops, and sports teams. It sucks the life out of a region.”

This isn’t a criticism of the farmers who are making decisions about how they should best use their land, Hayes said – instead, it is “a criticism of flawed government policies that are screwing the scrum and sending artificial price signals that artificially inflate the return of forestry”.

“Impractical rules and regulations are undermining the profitability of sheep farming and making it less appealing, while other policies are driving increased forestry conversions,” Hayes said.

“For example, New Zealand is the only country in the world that allows emitters to offset 100 per cent of their emissions using forestry. So that’s exactly what they do – instead of reducing emissions in places like Auckland and Wellington, they just offset by planting trees in our rural communities.

“The policy settings need to urgently change, or communities like the Wairarapa will just end up planted in pines to offset our neighbours down the road in Wellington.”

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