Fears farmland will lose to forestry

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Waitaki farmers are concerned the government’s One Billion Trees programme could sacrifice productive farmland to forestry.

North Otago Federated Farmers president Simon Williamson said there were good reasons to plant more trees, but he was concerned about the wide-reaching effects of the programme.

“There is widespread concern around how land could be lost to trees and how it could impact rural communities,” Mr Williamson said.

“If what they say is right, carbon sequestration is an issue, there are going have to be some pine trees planted.”

He had concerns about large companies buying up land for plantation forests.

“I don’t understand why foreign buyers can buy a sheep farm and plant it in forestry, but are not allowed to farm sheep – it is the same land.

“Once ground goes into pine trees, it is buggered for everything else.

“There are places, especially in the North Island, where it has played havoc with the biodiversity when they start milling.”

Mr Williamson expressed concerns that forestry companies were the only ones positioned to be able to buy farmland.

There had already been hundreds of thousands of hectares of riparian planting done by farmers, he said, and there had not been any goodwill shown towards those efforts.

The QEII National Trust has planted more than 180,000ha since 1977.

“There is a lot of land that has been taken out of private land and it has been done off farmers’ own bats,” Mr Williamson said.

“There is no real incentive for that apart from farmers want to look after the waterways themselves.

“You need a lot of riparian planting to make up a hectare.

“We are very worried that people are going to turn whole productive farms into the planting of trees.”

One positive of the initiative for the Waitaki district, especially in the Ahuriri area, was that a new breed of trees could now be used as a buffer to slow the spread of wilding pines, which were a problem in the high country, he said.

At a recent Waitaki District Council meeting, district plan review committee chairman councillor Jim Hopkins said he was concerned more forestry would mean fewer jobs and people working on the land, as well as unforeseen costs to council.

“Plantation forests have a relatively low impact for a lot of the time, but when they fire up and the harvesting starts, they can have a massive effect on roads and so on.

“[The council] have spent a lot of money on some roads as a consequence of forestry harvesting activities.

“It is not an activity that has no impact whatsoever.

“It does create its own problems and issues.”

So far, in the Waitaki district, there have been three One Billion Trees planting projects, covering 104.7ha, to the value of $53,975.

The Ministry for Primary Industries estimated, at pre-existing planting rates, at least 500,000 trees would have been planted in New Zealand.

So far, the programme has funded 2.1 million native and 3.9 million exotic trees.

The programme offered incentives to encourage landowners to plant more trees, with a range of options.

Grants were available for native plantings for ecological restoration and coastal erosion, as well as for exotic plantings.

Extra funding may be available to assist with erosion-prone country, preparation and fencing.

Plantings under the scheme could be eligible under the Emissions Trading Scheme or be used for planting new commercial forests.

The programme has 10 years to run, until 2028.