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A referendum of forest growers has shown strong support for a levy on harvested forest products.

"We have been given the thumbs-up to introduce a funding system that will provide greater certainty, equity and commitment for activities that benefit all growers, such as research, promotion and forest health," says Forest Growers Levy Trust chair Geoff Thompson.

"At this stage, we expect the levy to be introduced on 1 January 2014."

The audited referendum results reveal that 502 growers (86.3%) voted yes and 80 (13.7%) voted no. There was the same percentage support when the votes were weighted by area, with 947,762.71 hectares (86.3%) in favour and 149,926.91 ha (13.7%) opposed. Mr Thompson said having identical percentages for voters and area was "simply a fluke".

Under the Commodity Levies Act, for the levy to proceed it must have the support by number and by area of more than 50% of those forest owners who voted.

The Trust believes the turnout was about 15 per cent of an estimated 4000 eligible voters. Their votes represent more than two-thirds of the eligible forest area.

"This was quite a good turnout, compared with other recent primary sector referenda," says Mr Thompson.

"The key message is that those who will be paying the vast majority of the levy are strongly in favour of it. This is the green light we had to see before we progressed any further. Now we can get on with groundwork and consultation that is still needed before we can ask the Minister for Primary Industries to put a Levy Order in place."  

He said assessing the turnout was complicated by the fact that only those forest owners who own a plantation forest 10 years or more in age and at least four hectares in area were eligible to vote.
"Based on national age class statistics for forests, between 3095 and 5095 forest owners (a mean of 4000) could fall into this category. This is a generous estimate, given that only 350-400 forest owners harvest in any one year and that only 1838 forest owners are listed on the Ministry for Primary Industries national database.

"We need to bear in mind that the owners of many small farm forests will not have been motivated to vote. Also positive votes have been received from some owners where a single vote was for forests on many properties."

The month-long referendum was conducted for the Trust by Research New Zealand, which has audited a random sample of votes, as well as the final results. Their audit report is posted on the Forest Voice website.
Priorities for the Trust include on-going communication with potential levy payers, further consultation with data collection agents, an application to the Minister for a Levy Order, trialling and implementation of the levy collection system, and a transition from the board that organised the referendum, to one representing levy payers.

The ForestVoice website will continue to update the forest industry on levy progress.        

Trevor Walton
Forest Voice communications
Tel 021 381 465

 For more information, please ring Geoff Thompson, Tel 04 495 2685 or 027 445 3455

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