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Rejuvenate or die- The future of NZFFA

John Channings' Blog
Thursday, April 15, 2021

The NZFFA organisation is dying and this is happening at a time of unprecedented opportunity.

From my reading it strikes me the organisation has two primary objectives; one is political – to further the interests of forest growers; the second is to educate its members and the community at large.

The political agenda can continue to be effective even with a very small membership as long as there is a committed passionate core.

Currently education lives and dies on membership but could continue via easily accessible information of the on-line kind.

Field days (and their downstream benefits) are the ‘X’ factor that NZFFA provides which cannot be gained any other way and has been the gold that sustained membership up until now. 

So, a good question to ask is “in these days who is the organisation for or more usefully who could the organisation serve?” 

Originally it was geared for a very specific group; Neil Barr’s farmer mates. However, things have changed.  

Beyond the fact of declining membership there are several background tendencies at play. I speak specifically of family farms that are being sold out of family ownership either to the neighbour (making bigger farms) or to some corporate entity (with farm managers) or get subdivided into ‘lifestyle’ blocks.

These facts along with the aging membership guarantee the decline in farmer membership of NZFFA.

Where could new members come from?

Lifestylers? They are an eclectic bunch who often have lots of dreams and little knowledge.

I think it is also true to say that they often own land that is much more than the classical 10 acres. For example, I think of an acquaintance of mine in the Hawkes Bay who owns 100 acres and as a hobby plants the property (grazing leased to the neighbour) in eucalyptus and pines. He does not know what he is doing, is not a member of NZFFA but is having a great time planting. He strikes me as typical of the potential new membership.

When lifestylers think of trees their priorities are probably more towards ‘conservation’ and feel-good factors and not really into planting a forest (too big) or harvesting trees (too far in the future).

It strikes me that Farm Forestry is at the moment invisible to them. They are more likely to belong to the ‘Tree Croppers Association’ .

Does the organisation go for recruiting lifestylers?

Lets play Simon Says

Howard Moore's blog
Sunday, March 28, 2021

I was shaken at the Conference by Simon Upton, who suggested that both the He Waka Eke Noa team and the CCC were thinking about having a levy on agricultural emissions that could be offset with planting trees on farms.  A levy?  That suggests an agricultural carbon tax independent of the ETS, allowing totally different rigour in terms of measurement, compliance, penalties and rewards.  He further suggested that carbon forestry was bad, and in order to rein it in the Government might consider controlling the number of NZUs a grower could claim for each tonne of carbon stored.  He offered four possible mechanisms for doing this, including (for example) one NZU per two tonnes sequestered.  Good grief.

What Simon was suggesting was, in effect, different emissions treatments for different sectors.  Exploring that thought, I suggest there is nothing in the ETS that we (small forest owners) can rely on: it might be fluid and subject to policies that will be adjusted as other sectors do or don’t perform to expectations.  If Simon is right and the Government adopts fluid policy adjustment, there is no promise of a level playing field, equity across sectors or regulatory fairness. 

What he said threw the ideas I had drafted in the CCC submission totally into disarray, as I had assumed (against gnawing doubts) that equity and fairness would be fundamental.  If they’re not, anything goes.  The loudest or most serious voice will get the most attention and the rest will have to suck it up, as in the Covid-19 lockdown when public health officials shut down the tourism industry.  We all agreed what they did was right, but there was no equity or fairness involved.

There seem to be three possibilities.  The first is, we can sit back and hope that what Simon says is nonsense.

The second is, if we don’t want to ‘suck it up’ as a result of someone else’s priorities, we might put aside equity and fairness and become the loudest voice in climate change response.  I don’t know how to achieve that, but I think that to get any traction at all we’d need to unify; make sure the FOA shared this understanding and vision and were prepared to lead; gather up any other sectors who supported us; and then find those arguments that most appealed to (or least offended) Beef+Lamb and Federated Farmers, to start to make change without raising an even louder voice against us.  

The third possibility is that I’m just paranoid.

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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