Hamish Levack, New Zealand Tree Grower November 2020.
By the time you read this, it will probably be less than a fortnight before our AGM and Councillors’ meeting in Wellington on 17 November. It will cover all the business planned for the cancelled Invercargill conference. A one-day workshop will follow which will take advantage of the ready availability of Wellington-based officials and others who have an important part to play in ‘big picture’ forest policy. Newly elected politicians, responsible for forestry, may also be able to attend.
The flow-on effects of Covid-19 and other important matters will be discussed, but a much greater problem sits behind them all − climate change. The devastating forest fires in the United States last September, and in Australia in January are examples of the gathering momentum of the crisis. We now have a Climate Change Commission to provide independent, evidence-based advice to the government to guide New Zealand’s transition to a low-emission, climate-resilient economy. It is obliged to provide a four-year strategic outlook, and one-year plan, detailing objectives and how these will be carried out. The Climate Change Commission
tells us that drafts of these will be available for consultation by February 2021 and that small-scale afforestation will be a vital component. The NZFFA will then have the opportunity to influence the final report. The Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Act 2019 will make it very difficult for the government to ignore the Climate Change Commission’s recommendations.
Major rural concerns, spear-headed by ‘Fifty shades of Green’ were being forcefully articulated about whole farm conversion to carbon forestry when New Zealand Units were only worth $25. The units now exceed $35 and are probably on the way to reaching the government’s guaranteed 2021 cost containment reserve price of $50.
If the price of New Zealand Units rise this high and no constraining regulations are introduced, many hill country farms will be blanket-forested. The current Emissions Trading Scheme registered woodlot owner will probably decide not to harvest their trees at all, sawmillers and logging contractors will be distressed, and some dairy farmers may even decide to produce carbon credits instead of milk.
Such a change, especially if it is rapid, would cause undesirable social disruption. However, mosaic forestry is an alternative. Even ‘Fifty shades of Green’ supporters recognise the benefits of planting trees. They claim that they are not anti-trees, and that integrating woodlots within their farms is fine. Most of them agree that they need to support He Waka Eke Noa, which is a partnership with government, set up to reduce primary sector emissions. It involves working to equip farmers to measure, manage and reduce on-farm agriculture greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change. The alternative for farmers is a levy at the
meat processor level which lumps all of them together.
If every sheep and beef farmer identified ten per cent of their farm which was marginally productive, dangerously steep, needed as a riparian reserve, or good for providing shade and shelter, and planted it with trees it would amount to a total afforested area of 850,000 hectares. This would not affect red meat output, nor lose industry critical mass. Such afforestation would require a billion trees, if planted at 1,100 a hectare. If the species was radiata pine, then at age 17 years, they would have sequestered about 400 New Zealand Units a hectare, and at $35 each they would be worth about $12 billion. Under ‘averaging’ there should be no liabilities.
The NZFFA is having discussions with the Forest Owners Association and Beef and Lamb NZ. The aim is to reach some sort of agreement, with exceptions, that large-scale blanket carbon-only afforestation should not take place on otherwise commercially productive land.