Labour's pledge to curtail the conversion of highly productive land to forestry has helped take some heat out of the pastoral versus forestry argument, with farmers saying it's a step in the right direction.
The party's forestry spokesperson Stuart Nash said any conversion of highly productive farmland into forestry would require a resource consent to ensure rural communities were well-supported during the economic recovery.
Nash pledged that within the first six months of the next term of government, Labour would 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.
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Federated Farmers vice-president Andrew Hoggard said Labour's move was a step in the right direction, but said that farmers still had an issue with the carbon emissions trading scheme, which incentivises investment in forestry.
"The overriding concern that we have is that we have still got market signals from the ETS mechanism that are driving this.
"You have got a situation where for a big emitter, the simplest solution is to buy a farm and plant trees, which means their accounting problem is then solved for the next 30 years.
"That's not really solving the problem. It's solving their accounting issue," Hoggard says.
Andy Scott, a spokesman for the rural pressure group 50 Shades of Green, welcomed the signal from Labour.
"We are a little apprehensive about that, but it's definitely a very good step in the right direction," Scott said.
50 Shades was launched in 2019 to raise awareness of the threat to hill country farms as the speculation on the price of carbon, the ETS and changes to the overseas investment rules result in the loss of productive farmland to investors.
It wants the Government to stop what it sees as the "blanket" planting of good farmland immediately.
Labour's Nash said 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.
"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," he said.
Labour acknowledged that there had been land use redistribution across the decades but it would always remain heavily weighted in farmland's favour.
New Zealand has about 12.1 million hectares in farmland. About 1.7m hectares is in forestry, down from 2m hectares in 2002.
About 22,000 hectares of farmland converted to forestry in 2019, some through the Overseas Investment Office special forestry benefits test.
Up to 43,000 hectares is estimated to need to be planted in order to reach the 1 Billion Trees target by 2028.
In the past decade, 70,000 hectares of forestry has been converted - mostly to dairy.