Carbon forestry spreading

An update of sales of pastoral land has sparked fresh concern about the increase in that bought for carbon forestry as well as movement into better-quality land and more areas of the country.

In Business, Environment11 Minutes

An update of sales of pastoral land has sparked fresh concern about the increase in that bought for carbon forestry as well as movement into better-quality land and more areas of the country.

Forestry consultancy, Orme & Associates was commissioned by Beef + Lamb New Zealand to carry out the work based on BakerAg’s report published in August last year (Country-Wide, January p22/23). The latest report covers the first six months of 2021 and takes into account some sales not included in the first report because of timing and settlement issues as well as the effect of Covid-19 restrictions.

As a result, 2020 totals were boosted by 8832 hectares to 28,159ha. A significant growth of land sales was seen in the fourth quarter with 7949ha identified as being sold for carbon forestry, bringing the total for the year to 45% of the area sold for forestry. Sales where domestic buyers were interested in both forestry and carbon totalled 6522ha or 23%, those which needed Overseas Investment Office (OIO) approval made up 5760ha or 20% and the lowest level was sales for honey production at 3295ha or 12%.

From the start of last year until June 30 out of the total of 14,219ha sold about 3750ha was for carbon forestry, or 25% of the total. Domestic forestry purchases were slightly larger at 3899ha or 27% while 2714ha or 29% was identified as needing OIO approval. Sales of a further 3498ha were approved in July last year and 5499ha in August but these were not included, being outside the reporting period. The 2634ha of land for honey production again made up the lowest amount at 19%.

Over 80% of the whole farms sold into forestry were in clear pasture, compared with 65.7% across the 2017-20 period. Just 5.1% was potentially reverting country, down slightly. But there was

a big dip in land sales with exotic or indigenous species to 14% from the previous 27.5%. Together these figures show a change of 13.5% less vegetation on the properties sold.

There was a small shift to more productive land being bought for afforestation with 72.6% in land use class (LUC) 6 compared with 52% from 2017 to 2020. Land in LUC 7 fell from 36.7% to 18% and in LUC 8 from 1.7% to 0.2%, meaning a small shift up from 90.4% to 91% of land being above LUC 6.

An increase was also seen in the amount of land sold in the low and moderate erosion susceptibility classifications (ESC) with that in the low category rising from 28.2% to 42.4% and moderate from 35.8% to 43.7%. Sales in the high category dropped from 26% to 13.3%.

With the rising carbon price and a shortage of suitable farms real estate agents have been looking to pay upwards of $14,000 to $16,000/ha. And there were also signs land sales were moving into new areas such as Otago.

Beef + Lamb NZ chief executive Sam McIvor again called for urgent changes to the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).

“We’re extremely concerned the sale of sheep and beef farms into forestry will only accelerate as the carbon price increases, and fossil fuel emitters will continue to receive a ‘get out of jail’ free card and not reduce their emissions.”

Farmer and Whip seek action on trees

WAIRARAPA SHEEP AND BEEF farmer Derek Daniell has taken his concerns about carbon farming to his local member of Parliament and chief Government whip Kieran McAnulty, saying it amounts to asset stripping the country.

“We’re in agreement that the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) as it stands is promoting behaviour in the wrong way,” Daniell said after their mid-January meeting.

“It’s opening the door to push up the price of land which in the short term doesn’t achieve anything.”

He runs Wairere Stud on 1206ha (1070 effective) at Bideford, northeast of Masterton.

He’s run the farm since 1984 and in the past 20 years has established joint ventures in Australia, where a Victorian farm was bought in 2015, the United Kingdom and South America. He’s been a member for the last two years of the group 50 Shades of Green which has raised awareness of increasing forestry purchases and the effect the reduction of sheep and beef farming this will cause will have on rural communities.

“We’re asset stripping the country,” he said.

We’re planting trees thinking we’re going to save the world while only 11% of the globe’s surface is used for farming.

And all New Zealanders would end up paying for carbon credits received by forestry owners through their taxes.

Daniell wrote to McAnulty early in January this year, drawing his attention to several recent farm sales to forestry in Hawke’s Bay and describing the ETS as “a rort”.

“It is supposed to reduce New Zealanders’ use of fossil fuels, but it is a total failure in that respect. The only change brought about by the increase in carbon price is a doubling in the price of hill country land.

“As you will be well aware, large tracts of your constituency are disappearing under pine trees. There is no respect for the generations who worked for 150-plus years to develop food and wool-producing farms. There is no respect for the Paris Accord, which states that food production should be preserved.”

McAnulty said in his emailed response the issue had been an area of particular concern for him for some time.

“I have been pushing for a fix ever since being elected to Parliament.”

He said he had worked with the mayor of the Tararua District to take the Minister for Primary Industries (MPI) by helicopter to see the number of plantations in the district and was determined to find a solution to what was a complex issue. This would involve pushing the minister hard to implement election campaign promises and then further exploring broader issues such as the planting of pines versus natives. The most recent meeting had occurred two weeks before the Christmas break with the ministers of forestry, environment and climate change, as well as Minister of Conservation, Kiri Allan from the East Coast.

“I made my views clear that action needs to be a priority and was encouraged by the response,” McAnulty said.

Daniell said he suggested a two-month moratorium on further sales be immediately put in place to investigate the long term consequences for the NZ economy and for rural communities. He said one real estate agent estimated that land which had been running one million stock units on the North Island’s east coast alone had been sold for forest planting.

But McAnulty “wasn’t keen”. Instead he had suggested farmers could be able to plant part of their land in trees with local councils designating what areas were suitable. But Daniell said that approach “smacks of bureaucracy” and a better solution was to reposition NZ as being carbon positive. Recent measurements showed a much greater tonnage of carbon was sequestered annually by native bush than previously calculated.

Instead of being cleared, wilding pines could be left to grow providing a carbon farming resource at no cost and native bush areas could be left to revert. Or NZ could divert tree planting funding to different areas of the world, preventing the Sahara desert moving south, or deforestation of the Amazon jungle.

“New Zealand is playing its own little game when we should be supporting other countries,” he said.

“This is a global issue, not a New Zealand issue. At some point the Government will say we have planted enough trees.

“New Zealanders don’t realise how their standard of living relates to what we produce off the land, so we are on a hopeless course. We are pinning our hopes on what happens in 30 years’ time.”