The Minister of Forestry is promising to look at land use regulations to help curb growing unease in the farming sector that prime land is being monopolised by foreign forestry companies.
William Beetham of Federated Farmers says farm after farm is being sold, many to foreign-owned consortiums, due to large incentives offered under the government’s One Billion Trees programme.
“To see areas like what we farm here planted out in forestry would be devastating,” Mr Beetham said “We’re standing here next to a rural school that people drive from town to send their kids to, cause they love the rural community.
“That would be gone if this area was planted out in trees.
“There are policy drivers at the moment that are going to allow a lot of sheep and beef properties to be planted out with forestry – that is going to offset our fossil fuel emissions from co2 emissions only for a short period of time.”
However, Ministry of Forestry Shane Jones this week defended the government’s decisions in parliament.
“It’s the other way around – we’re struggling to find bums on seats to actually fill the jobs,” Mr Jones said.
“Actually, per hectare, when you conceive the amount of land that’s covered by hill country, sheep and beef… and then covered by the 1.2 or whatever it is billion hectares of forestry, we actually, per hectare, generate more jobs.”
The Frestry Association says forestry far exceeds the sheep and beef industries in terms of contribution to New Zealand’s GDP.
But a 2015 study in the Waikato by Crown research company Scion found the sectors to be broadly similar in terms of value to the economy, if environmental impact is ignored.
Kevin Hackwell of Forest in Bird says a mixture of both forestry and farming would be the ideal solution.
“There’s been various studies which show that actually forestry does a lot in terms of employment in the local economy, just like farming – it’s pretty well balanced actually,” Mr Hackwell said.
“A mixture of both in an area could be very good for an area.”
Farmers say they would be happy if forestry was planted for controlling erosion and increasing biodiversity, but they’ll be gutted if the current rates of afforestation continue.
Mr Jones says New Zealanders all have the same goals in mind.
“Those of us who have our interests in provincal New Zealand … we’re in the same sort of waka,” he said.
Mr Jones has now promised to look more closely at land use and whether further regulation around farming and forestry could provide an answer.