Labour MPs say they will require any conversion of highly productive farmland into forestry to have a resource consent to ensure rural communities are well supported during our economic recovery.
"While we will continue to plant the right tree in the right place to meet our climate change challenges, our food producing soil will be our number one priority," Labour Party forestry spokesman Stuart Nash said.
"Within the first six months of the next term of Government, we will revise the National Environment Standards for Plantation Forestry to enable councils to once again determine what classes of land can be used for plantation and carbon forests.
"Resource consent would be required for plantation or carbon forests on Land Use Capability Classes 1-5 – often known as elite soils – above a threshold of 50 hectares per farm to allow farmers flexibility in creating small plantations to support environmental goals," Stuart Nash said.
"While 90 per cent of forestry planting for ETS purpose happens on less productive soils in classes 6-8, we want to ensure all planting happens away from our most valuable soils 1-5," Labour Party rural communities spokesman Kieran McAnulty said.
"Forestry is not bad: we need the right tree in the right place, but we also need the right mechanism to ensure this.
"This move builds on Government work to protect our elite soils – which make up about 14 per cent of our New Zealand soil – including protecting elite Pukekohe soil from urban sprawl.
"Communities know best about their local sectors and should be able to determine whether forestry should be happening on their productive pastoral land. People always have a choice about who they sell their farms to, and foreign investment has always been part of our landscape – forestry has been two-thirds foreign owned for many decades.
"We've seen land use redistribution across the decades but it will always remain heavily weighted in farmland's favour. This is even more important as we grow our way out of the Covid economic crisis and ensure we can keep exporting the very best, and nutritious, food and fibre to the world," Kieran McAnulty said.
New Zealand has about 12.1 million hectares in farmland and 1.7 million in forestry, following a decline in forestry which was at 2 million hectares in 2002.
Planting the right tree in the right place has seen 22,000 hectares of farmland converted to forestry in 2019, some through the OIO special forestry benefits test, with up to 43,000 hectares estimated to be planted some years to reach the One Billion Trees target in 2028. In the past decade, 70,000 hectares of forestry was converted mostly to dairy.