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Farmer’s forestry hysteria

Vaughan Kearns blog
Wednesday, November 02, 2022

The recent press release from the president of the New Zealand Farm Forestry Association is a breath of fresh air in response to the drivel that continues to emanate from Beef and Lamb New Zealand, Federated Farmers and Fish and Game NZ.

Frankly I’m surprised at Graham West’s restraint when responding to the outright lies that were released on Rural News on Friday October 28th.

I will start by addressing the Curia report and putting a name to the person responsible. David Farrar is Curia’s principal. On their website home page it is clearly stated that Mr Farrar personally oversees the question design and analysis. So it is here that we can lay the blame or the credit for the skewed results that the survey has come up with. Mr Farrar is described by Wikipedia as "right wing political activist, blogger and pollster who has worked for four National Party Prime Ministers". Enough said on this puppet.

It is stated that the Climate Change Commission has suggested a necessary planting rate of 25,000 hectares annually to meet New Zealand’s Climate Change objectives. More recently that figure has been revised to 35,000 hectares of exotics or 250,000 hectares of natives as an equal preferred alternative. Despite the actual recorded 2021 planting of exotics reaching 49,000 ha of both production forestry and climate change mitigation forestry, there is absolutely no evidence that the New Zealand forest estate has returned to the 2003 level, so great was the deforestation that has occurred over the last 20 years in favour, mainly, of Dairy.

Beef +LNZ’s Sam McIvor stated there will be significant economic damage to New Zealand’s red meat sector and rural communities as a result of “productive land” changing land use to carbon farms. Yet the Perrin Ag report released on October 6 2020, commissioned by MPI, showed the opposite to be true and that integrating livestock farming with forestry was a more profitable and sustainable land use than livestock alone. Further, in this very same publication, Rural News in May this year headlined a new study where "actively managed carbon forestry created 25% more jobs that livestock farming". The NZFFA’s own case studies show in every case that locking up the least productive 10-20% of grazing land had an immediate positive effect on the business’ bottom line. I repeat, every case. But Sam later in the article agrees with all this, so his argument is all about the rate of change, suggesting sequestration is far in excess of requirements. In these very early days of recloaking the whenua, this is, I believe, immaterial.

Now President of Federated Farmers, Andrew Hoggard, gets in on the act with, "B+LNZ and FF want to explore the introduction of changes to the Overseas Investment Office, limits on whole farms being converted into exotics then going into the permanent category of the ETS". Well, this is utter shit. Despite being informed numerous times that it is completely impossible for overseas land purchasers to enter the ETS in the permanent carbon category he continues to trot it out. It can’t happen because it is illegal. The penalty for doing so could be as severe as land being confiscated if this activity was ever uncovered.

Finally, a moronic contribution from the boss of Fish and Game NZ Corina Jordan. She states her organisation "is increasingly concerned by the impact the mass monoculture of forest planting could have on the environment". Yet up to date science reports state that biodiversity in exotic forests allows more volumes of birds to exist in exotics than in native forest, including twice as many kiwi. 

Further, she states "pines take up a huge amount of water thereby leading to less flowing into streams, rivers and wetlands". But a one million dollar science project undertaken by Scion called "Forest Flows" has released interim results on five huge catchment studies comparing forestry to pasture taken over years. The results are forestry ahead on one, farming ahead on one, and the remaining three no discernible difference.

Then the statement that takes the cake, she says "Couple this with the acidic leachate that comes off the land under exotic conifers, and the increase in some pollutants and you’ve got catastrophic impacts on instream biology and the health of our freshwater". This is so offensively inaccurate that it cannot go unchallenged. Not a shred of evidence was produced to back these outrageous assertions and yet the Rural News just prints it.

It beggars belief that people in these public positions don’t understand that they have an  important responsibility to inform themselves accurately by rigorously questioning what they have seen written on the back of cereal packets.

Seriously, I’d like to see them held to account for issuing such falsehoods in the way that Guy Fawkes and his Catholic conspirators were, when they objected to the way that the government of 1604 was running things.

Diversifying our productive forests to build sector resilience

Dean Satchell's blog
Wednesday, September 07, 2022

Throughout the media one clear message prevails about planting trees and forests: Either plant pines, or plant natives. Apparently those are the only options. Forest Owners have no reason to counter that, growing pine after all is business as usual. One species and one wood, where “wood” and “radiata” are interchangeable terms and serve both the forest and wood processing industries well.

The Industry Transformation Plan, on the other hand, is about innovation that leads to a prosperous future industry. Wood is as diverse as the tree species that produce it, and this was identified by the advisory group as a clear opportunity industry should not ignore. Although diversifying into specialty timbers does challenge that “business as usual” model, the opportunity for industry to mitigate both biological and business risk is real and significant. 

The other reality is that the forest industry has, rightly or wrongly, earned a negative and highly-charged reputation for being an unsustainable pine monoculture. That reputation will continue to erode the forest industries social licence to operate. Everyone knows that pines poison the soil and deplete biodiversity. Well, that’s what I’m being told all the time in my role as land management advisor. Just ask any farmer or city dweller. Whether right or wrong, people hear what they want to hear, not necessarily what is fact. The public, as holders of the forest industries social licence to operate, demand genuine narrative and tangible change where they see this is required, so distrust glossy promotional campaigns because these are perceived to disguise business as usual. 

Add to this the Climate Change Commission jumping aboard Dame Anne Salmond’s vision of vast areas on New Zealand covered in planted native forests, to counter the villain monoculture pine industry. Let’s not kid ourselves, the economics of growing native plantations for timber don’t stack up, the Forest Service figured that out early last century. Anyway, reinventing that wheel would require significant research investment, with no guarantees of returns. More importantly, before deploying native timber plantations at scale, decades of trials would be necessary to inform productivity models.

The ITP working group did our best to get this through to a native-indoctrinated Te Uru Rākau. Unfortunately that bandwagon is well rolling, in my view prematurely gaining momentum and with no thought being given to the circumstances where land should be retired from production. In my opinion FOA haven’t helped the situation by partnering with Te Uru Rākau in their “It’s time for wood” campaign that centres around regional economic development based on “indigenous trees and their timber’s appeal as an alternative to importing tropical hardwoods”. This sets the stage for “them and us” (heroes and villains), and a lost opportunity of epic proportions unless industry steers a new path to diversify our productive species mix. The handbrake as I see it is corporate sector motivation for change, and at the scale required for success.

To shed the evil reputation of a “monoculture” industry, serious investment in diverse species for wood production is required, in partnership with government. The Specialty Wood Products programme has made good progress and the knowledge gaps are being filled. We just need to refocus investment and understand that levies accrued from radiata logs don’t necessarily need to go back into radiata, but instead where strategic industry investment is most needed. The R&D deck has been stacked against alternatives for 80 years, so no wonder preconceptions abound within the forest sector. Despite this, there are good initiatives being undertaken to commercialise redwoods, cypress and eucalypts, fast-growing species not only offering diverse wood products, but also opening the door for continuous cover forestry on steep slopes.

If, as the forest industry, we were to seriously invest in exotic species that produce high-value specialty timber, not only would we open new market opportunities while addressing species concentration risk, but done right we’d also transform our social license to operate. If industry doesn’t take that initiative then the politicians will fill the void with vast native afforestation of pastoral hill country, to satisfy their climate response agenda and the publics thirst for diversity. The promise might be that native trees produce high-value timber, but my experience says otherwise. Native canopy species are difficult enough to establish successfully in pasture, but worse because their ecology is to emerge through pioneer scrub species,  producing straight stems requires extremely complex silvicultural systems that are currently only being imagined. But politicians don’t always get reality.

Shade tolerant, coppicing species like redwoods and eucalypts mitigate landslide risk under a continuous cover regime, so what level of slope is too great for production forestry? Rotation forests have a much lower slope threshold, implying that land deemed unsuitable for clearfell has nil capital value. Under that scenario, are the higher harvesting costs of single tree extraction justified for high-value timber species? Without knowing the answer to that, forest owners only have assumptions when weighing risk to replant orange and red zone land against retirement. Pastoral land owners consider only two tree planting options for their hills, rotation pine or native retirement, with no species or landslide risk information. Becoming informed would begin the paradigm shift, but that also means progressive thinking. My favourite quote, "Paradigms fall slowly, from the weight of repeated failure", reflects only the lack of industry imagination.

It’s achievable to provide sustainable wood production and biodiverse, rich outcomes for society by diversifying the productive species mix. But an industry vision and a commitment for action is required to bring government along for the ride, with both parties serious about delivering the goods. The small forest grower is already there.

Disclaimer: Personal views expressed in this blog are those of the writers and do not necessarily represent those of the NZ Farm Forestry Association.

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