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July, 2009

Under-Rated Over-Performers

The New Zealand Farm Forestry Assn. has a major challenge for the future according to its President, Patrick Milne. Commenting at the end of the Association's annual Conference in Canterbury, Mr Milne said that farm foresters still need to convince a much wider audience that trees and farm forestry offer real advantages to landowners and the country as a whole.

Chief amongst the target audience must be central government and regional councils. While the government and other politicians have made some laudable noises about the need for more tree cover, the Farm Forestry Assn. doubts that they really appreciate the scale of the problems. The simple, physical challenge is big enough,says Mr Milne, but they will be dealing with landowners who are financially stretched, generally unfamiliar with forestry and in some cases remarkably apathetic. There are also a depleted nursery industry and forest servicing infra-structure that need resurrecting.

Mr Milne said that it is a great pity that more of the wider farming community couldn't have seen and experienced the benefits that flow from intelligently integrating trees and forestry with other land uses. Conference participants saw some excellent examples on Conference field days in the mid-Canterbury region.

More trees and forestry are absolutely essential if New Zealand is ever going to be able to claim something akin to sustainability says Mr Milne. And this is not just about balancing our carbon emissions. We also need more trees to protect our soils, enhance water quality, protect indigenous biodiversity and as shelter, shade or even emergency fodder for animal welfare.

But Mr Milne agrees that carbon sequestration and 'carbon farming' is likely to dominate tree thinking in the near future as New Zealand struggles to balance its carbon budget. What concerns farm foresters though is that land owners need to recognise an even more important long term role for forestry in combating climate change and that is as a source of low energy, renewable, carbon neutral wood. Wood, in its many guises, can be used an alternative to very energy intensive, (i.e. high carbon emitting), steel, concrete, aluminium or plastic. It can also be used as a biofuel and even a source of chemicals and chemical feedstocks.

These different uses are not in conflict and the really good news according to Mr Milne is that all these roles can be combined in what the Farm Forestry Assn. describes as the 'Farm Forestry Model' - the intelligent integration of trees with other land uses, sequestering and storing carbon while also producing wood for a myriad of uses. Needless to add, farm foresters have never been constrained to growing just radiata pine and numerous species, including indigenous species, are being used in farm forestry operations.

Mr Milne says that New Zealand used to be regarded as a world leader in farm forestry, but over the last decade interest has waned, we have lost our pre-eminent position, and we are paying the price, be it in carbon charges, soil erosion, animal welfare or in rural amenity and landscape values, There has never been a stronger case for tree planting and New Zealand has one of the best tree growing environments in the world. The Farm Forestry Assn's collective experience in planting and managing a wide range of tree species in an even wider range of environments is a national asset according to Mr Milne. In his words. "we have already made the mistakes so there is no need to go out and repeat them. We know how to do the job, now all we need is a more widespread appreciation of the advantages of trees and some committment to do something about it."

For further information contact:
Patrick Milne:- 03 312 6599 - 0274 710 224 or
Denis Hocking 06 322 1254 - 021 051 4479

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