Recently, there has been a lot of discussion around the One Billion Trees Programme — particularly in relation to farming and forestry.
Firstly, I think it's important to highlight that farming and forestry are not mutually exclusive, quite the opposite in fact.
Trees on farms can create wide benefits including diversifying income, improving land productivity, addressing environmental issues like erosion, water quality and climate change, increasing habitats for a range of native species and enhancing our natural landscapes. It will also support New Zealand to move towards a low-emissions economy — which the government is committed to achieving.
With this in mind, the One Billion Trees Programme is aiming to plant between 230,000 and 430,000ha over the next 10 years.
If all this new planting occurred by integrating trees on farmland, that would equate to just over 3 per cent of all farmland (currently 12.6 million hectares) across the country.
That does not suggest a major conversion of farms to forests, and that is not what we are aiming for. We know how important farming is to our economy, and will continue to be.
We do need to work together to address wider environmental issues and improve land-use to support a balance between volume and value and reinforce our reputation as a world leader in sustainable grown, low emissions, high value natural products.
That is why there is $118 million in the One Billion Trees Fund supporting farmers to integrate trees on their land. This Fund is explicit in its approach — it does not subsidise whole farm conversion. Rather, it is supporting landowners — particularly farmers — to get the best out of their land.
The One Billion Trees Fund has a target of planting two-thirds natives, a maximum hectare limit unless in exceptional circumstances, and higher payments for the most erodible land. To date, all of the grants approved are for planting projects under 140 hectares.
At the same time, it's important to note that land-use change is variable because it is primarily driven by the aspirations of individual landowners, sector innovation and market drivers.
Yes, we are seeing high log and carbon prices which means forestry is an attractive investment right now. This affords farmers the opportunity to turn unproductive land into an asset. This isn't new for many farmers though, with 1700 of the 2100 participants in the Emissions Trading Scheme being farm foresters.
All this needs to be looked at in context — as markets change, so too does land use.
Take for instance the last decade or so where more forestry was converted to farmland at over 7000ha per year. Or the fact that the long-term trend is a reduction in the total number of farms due to things like farm amalgamation and an ageing population.
Even so, we will continue to monitor changes to land-use and how market drivers are influencing this. Interestingly, statistics from REINZ suggest that there were 56 fewer farm sales for the three months ending April 2019, in comparison to the same period last year.
We will also continue to look at overseas investment as a result of streamlining this process.
Currently though, this process has seen just seven sales approved by the Overseas Investment Office. Four are sales of forests, and three involve farms, with a total of 2300ha of land to be planted and a further 1200ha to remain in current land-use.
At the end of the day, the government is committed to supporting communities to embrace the opportunities in front of us that have arisen from global and local drivers.
Achieving our goals is an ongoing and evolving process and we all have an important role to play. That is why Te Uru Rakau is increasing its regional presence to build even closer relationships with landowners and ensure long term, sustainable land-use that supports our goals as a country.
The key takeaway here is — we have an opportunity to see farming and forestry work together to get the best outcomes for New Zealand.
• Julie Collins is head of Te Uru Rakau (Forestry NZ)