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July, 2009

Mixed Score-Card for Govt

The NZ Farm Forestry Association, (FFA), has reacted favourably to much of the Government's new climate change and emissions trading proposals says President, Patrick Milne. The Government finally seems to have decided that forestry is an important and necessary ally and needs to be treated as such. A more positive attitude towards forestry should flow on to greater enthusiasm amongst farm foresters and small growers.

Few farm foresters are likely to be interested in trading carbon credits, certainly in the early years, as small blocks of mixed aged stands and perhaps different species, will mean increased costs and risks, claims Mr Milne. However they certainly will follow developments in the carbon markets closely to see whether systems can be developed to cover small players.

But the FFA would also like to see more work done in certain areas says Mr Milne. In particular the issue of 'on-farm off-set' tree planting. For many years into the future, the cheapest way for agriculture to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions is likely to be off-set tree planting. On a typical hill country farm, having 10% of the area in forestry should make the property carbon neutral, or close to, explains Mr Milne. Yet these plantations may well be too small to justify selling carbon credits and the rules are that if these forests are not in the carbon trading system, they cannot be recognised as emission off-sets.

Individually and collectively, New Zealand farmers, agricultural industries and the whole country could lose a great deal if these numerous, smaller plantations are ignored. We hope that systems can be developed to recognise their contribution says Mr Milne, and such work could be part of the proposed, $7 million, 'Farm-level Greenhouse gas Reporting' programme. Even a cheap, and necessarily conservative, scheme could yield considerable national benefit claims Mr Milne.

Other parts of the package also get a mixed reception from farm foresters. Mr Milne says the Government needs to recognise that the deforestation tax for pre-1990 forests is retrospective and does impose an inequity on some forest owners, though few farm foresters will be affected. On the other hand, the proposal to allocate deforestation credits, (those credits associated with the deforestation cap), to owners of pre-1990 forests on a forest area basis actually offers some potential monetary reward for those who have been sequestering carbon for many years.

Mr Milne supports the Government's proposed Afforestation Grant Scheme and their target of 250,000 hectare of new forest by 2020, but adds that a lot of work needs to be done to turn around current deforestation and get near this target. As one of the only groups advocating more forestry, the FFA knows what a lonely task this has been in recent years. Considerable effort will be needed to convince landowners of the benefits of new afforestation. Currently, there is very little enthusiasm for forestry in many of the regions that need it most claims Mr Milne and the afforestation grant, which will only amount to $250/ha. if targets are to be met, will not be enough on its own to change entrenched attitudes.

In addition, the Government will need to move fast to ensure that there are still forest nurseries left to supply this proposed expansion.

While the Government's new proposals are a very welcome move to break a serious log jam, the serious work is only just beginning observes Mr Milne. But he promises that the Farm Forestry Assn. is willing to help in what is a very important area for New Zealand's future.

Patrick Milne 03 312 6599
Denis Hocking 06 322 1254: 021 051 4479

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