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President's comment

Hamish Levack, New Zealand Tree Grower August 2020.

We are very grateful to Graham Milligan, Roger Washbourn, Lyn James and the rest of the Southland organising committee for planning the 2020 NZFFA conference in Invercargill, and then coping with all the problems generated by the Covid-caused cancellation. Meanwhile Lynne Wallace is orchestrating a two-day replacement in Wellington this November which will cover necessary NZFFA business and also
provide an indoor workshop on topical issues.

The Forests (Regulations of Log Traders and Forestry Advisors) Amendment Bill may have become law by the time this article is published. Initially the Minister of Forests, Shane Jones, introduced the Bill as a Trojan horse to get more logs processed domestically, even if it meant that forest owners would have to forgo some of their log export income. An avalanche of opposing submissions, one of them from the NZFFA led by Don Wallace, effectively stripped the Bill of the latter aim.

The inconvenient truth is that Shane is right. It is risky to be so reliant on log exports to China, and with better coordination, the forest sector could be more profitable and contribute much more to New Zealand’s economy. Sector leaders have been meeting regularly with Te Uru Rakau to address this. They have developed a set of principles which are intended to lead to an Industry Transformation Plan which
will outline pathways to more domestic wood processing, while identifying what policy or other intervention is needed to overcome relevant barriers.

The NZFFA has pointed out that without the aggregation of small-scale forests to get scale economies and guarantee the provision of sustainable supplies of logs to processing plants, the Industry Transformation Plan will not fly. This can only be assured if the ‘cost of timber’ tax regulations are amended, a log price equalisation system is set up, remote sensing technology is used to make the National Exotic Forest Description far more accurate, the ‘wall of wood’ trees, which is almost all owned by small-scale foresters, is flattened, accelerated radiata pine afforestation takes place in the right locations at sufficient rates of planting to fill the wood supply deficit after the wall of wood has been digested, sound regional forestry development planning takes place, and relevant sawmill owners agree to take-or-pay log contracts on a mutually acceptable basis.

This can only happen if individual owners of small forests agree that it is in their best interests, which means that an intensive education campaign by the government is needed. Some government seed funding to encourage the establishment of forestry cooperatives is probably also necessary. We have been lobbying about the importance of addressing these requirements for several years. Officials and Ministers have been
receptive, but progress has been glacial.

Recently, the Emissions Trading Reform Bill became law, and the Climate Change Response Act will be updated to reflect the new provisions as they come into effect.  Rapid afforestation remains the most fiscally efficient and reliable means for New Zealand to smooth its pathway to zero nett carbon emissions by 2050.

However, resistance by Fifty Shades of Green has made the government wobble.  The back-pedalling Minister of Agriculture, Damien O’Connor, now says that the government will intervene if new forest planting exceeds 40,000 hectares a year. 

Why decelerate the One Billion Tree programme when average returns per hectare per year from forestry are well above those from hill country farming, synthetic food is getting cheaper, and more trees are needed to stop soil erosion, mitigate flood and drought damage?

OK, calm down. Take Ralph Waldo Emerson’s advice ‘Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.’

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