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June, 2020

Promised forest limit trashes zero carbon goals by at least 30,000 hectares a year

The Forest Owners Association says New Zealand’s carbon zero goal is seriously in doubt after a statement by the Minister of Agriculture, Damien O’Connor, that the government would ‘need to step in’ if new forest planting increased to more than 40,000 hectares a year.

Some farming groups want the government to restrict forest planting.

The Vice-President of the Forest Owners Association, Grant Dodson, says if the government gives in to the anti-tree campaign, then New Zealand will fail to achieve a carbon neutral economy by 2050.  This goal is enshrined in the Zero Carbon Act.

“In 2018, the Productivity Commission set out scenarios for getting to zero carbon.  They all involved reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  They also accepted the need to expand the plantation forestry area to sequester large volumes of carbon that would still be emitted.”

“The Commission estimated between 2.1 and 2.8 million hectares of planting was necessary to get to zero.”

“The simple maths is that at least an extra 70,000 hectares a year on average needs to be planted over the next 30 years.  But Damien O’Connor has told the Primary Production Select Committee that he will stop this yearly level of planting well short of what is required.  If you restrict planting to 40,000 hectares a year, then you are at least 30,000 hectares in carbon deficit.”

Grant Dodson says planting this winter, which has just started, is likely to be well up on the new planting area last year of 22,000 hectares.

“That’s because New Zealanders are investing in forests, mostly farmers on their own land.”

“It’s a pretty fundamental right to decide what business you conduct on your own farm.  I know of many farmers who strongly believe that it’s their right to farm stock or trees or both, without the government telling them what to do.”

“We’ve got Shane Jones telling us that we have to divert our logs from overseas exports to sell them more cheaply to local sawmills.  Now his colleague in government wants to stop us planting more trees.”

“Neither minister is informed by any examination of the issues and there’s been no meaningful consultation.  It looks like both ministers are driven by noisy lobby groups who want to get special deals.”

Grant Dodson says he takes issue with the expression that forestry is taking over ‘productive’ land. 

“Forestry is productive too.  The average returns per hectare per year from forestry are well above those from hill country farming.  And farmers are increasingly questioning the economics of continuing to rely on a farm income.”

“There are farmers who worry about the greater frequency of severe droughts in some east coast regions.  They know there are more stringent controls over their stock water discharge coming.  Synthetic food is getting cheaper all the time.  And overseas governments are re-erecting trade protection walls for their food industries after COVID-19.” 

“For these farmers, forestry is a more secure option in the long term. As it is for all sorts of New Zealand investors.  The government should not be arbitrarily thwarting those opportunities, nor jeopardising the fight against climate change.”

Grant Dodson

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