Worry over foreign "carbon foresters"
Foreign-owned "carbon foresters" have ambitions to turn a fifth of New Zealand sheep and beef farmland into forests and that will devastate many rural towns, the national farmers' lobby says.
Federated Farmers president Don Nicolson said the organisation strongly believed that farm forestry was integral to farms where suited. This made the government's axing of the Afforestation Grants Scheme (AGS) in preference to the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) "incredibly perplexing".
"Yet it's the big overseas foresters that can't see our food for the carbon. The likes of Ernslaw One (Malaysia), Blakeley Pacific (USA) and Rayonier New Zealand (USA) want to plant two million hectares of our farmland in trees," he said.
"Two million hectares, if converted to carbon forestry, is a full fifth of New Zealand's sheep and beef industry. What we are talking about is the loss of 2800 farms, the loss of 11.4 million stock and the loss of another billion from our $5 billion sheep and beef industry.
"At this scale of planting, vulnerable regional economies, like the North Island's East Coast, would be levelled. It's the human scale that is being lost.
"Carbon forestry doesn't need the same labour force as a farm and in some instances, after planting will require none. What will become of the shearers, mechanics, stock and station agents, builders or vets?
"Trees won't support the labour force farming does in the heartland. If large scale conversion to trees takes place, it'll rip the heart out of our rural towns and provincial centres."
Because trees absorb carbon dioxide, one of the main greenhouse gases being blamed for global warming, money from the ETS is going to foresters who have planted trees since 1990.
But Nicolson said legislated incentives not to farm grasses or annual crops for human food production were misguided.
"And for what end I ask? So that these foreign-owned foresters who control 72% of our pine forests, can all benefit from our hard earned dollars?
"That's why farmers from Gore to Gisborne are stirred up."
When the government confirmed earlier this month that the AGS was to be chopped, Forestry Minister David Carter said there would be 5000ha of more forests planted next year because there was money to be made from carbon sequestration.
"We are already seeing interest from land owners with land suitable for forestry planting and forestry consultants tell me they are very busy talking to potential rural landowners about the possibility of planting more trees."