Growing more trees and processing them in New Zealand is part of Forestry Minister Stuart Nash's vision for the future of the industry.
He was hosted by the Tai Tokerau Maori Forestry Collective at a meeting of forestry industry leaders on Friday in the Pakaraka Hall near Moerewa.
Nash has worked in the forestry industry in New Zealand and Japan and has a postgraduate diploma in forestry and a masters degree in forestry management.
He told the meeting he wants the sector to focus on maximising the potential of the forests and to use innovation to enhance the economic potential of the wood produced.
"Overall, to be honest, I am disappointed that we are now the world's largest exporter of raw logs. This must change as I believe we have the capabilities and competencies to add significant value and to own far more of the value chain.''
Nash said New Zealand needs more trees in the ground and there is plenty of room on land that is not well suited to farming or other crops.
"We need to be smarter and plant trees in the best places. About 70 per cent of land is sub-optimal for farming and forestry has a role to play in that.
"Exotic trees, indigenous trees and mixed planting regimes all have a part to play in our forestry future,'' he said.
The Government's climate change response represents a huge opportunity for the forestry sector.
"Forestry is, after all, this country's largest renewable resource. By embracing the economic and environmental benefits of this resource I am confident the future for this sector is extremely bright."
Forestry exports are expected to increase 8.1 per cent to $6 billion for the year ending June 2021 due to strong demand for logs from China and robust demand for sawn timber from the US.
Growth in the Chinese construction industry and the US housing market is expected to support demand for New Zealand's key forestry products over the medium term. In addition, domestic timber demand is expected to remain strong due to increased residential construction.
"We know there are challenges but the post Covid-19 economic forecasts for forestry are looking good."
Nash said in order to meet New Zealand's obligations around climate change, many more trees needed to be planted.
"The whole forestry system will be key in our climate change response – planting trees, and how we use the resource they produce. For Māori, we see huge potential across the whole system – as landowners, community leaders, guardians of our environment, investors – we want to support you to meet your aspirations through trees."
The Government wanted to encourage landowners to take land that is not productive and plant trees there to prevent erosion, and at the same time claim Emissions Trading Scheme carbon credits.
"We want to see greater use of indigenous timber and I understand the totara project running up here is looking really promising. Whether native or exotic trees are planted, there is huge potential here for a nursery in Northland instead of buying trees from down south.''
Nash said doing more to make better use of the wood grown in New Zealand could include more wood processing plants and mills, which would create more jobs and further support rural communities.
However, attracting large-scale processing companies needed a guarantee of wood supply for at least 40 years ahead.
"It means using those wood processing plants to create high-tech, high-value wood products and byproducts to diversify the income streams of New Zealand's foresters. It means creating biofuels, and biochemicals to support New Zealand's move away from fossil fuels and create a more sustainable future."
The Forestry and Wood Processing Industry Transformation Plan (ITP) is being developed with the sector to support the Government's objective for a productive, sustainable, and inclusive economy, with net zero emissions by 2050.
Priorities for the Forestry and Wood Processing ITP have been identified as: attracting investment in domestic value-add wood processing; kickstarting a woody biomass, bioenergy, and biofuels sector, to support the transition to a low emissions bioeconomy; sustaining and generating employment in our regions; and growing the value of our forestry exports.
A draft of the ITP will be released for industry consultation in the second half of 2021 and is expected to be finalised by the end of the year.
Along with this, the Wood First Government Procurement Policy currently under development aims to help drive higher demand for sustainable products such as timber, and encourage further investment in forestry.
Nash said the story of forestry needed to be told better to attract more school leavers.
"It's not just about cutting down trees. There are so many job opportunities and we've all got a role in showing forestry in an aspirational way to capture their imagination,'' he said.