By Seamus Boyer, editor of the Wairarapa Times-Age

Planting a billion trees seems a heck of a challenge at first glance, but in reality could be pretty easy.

The new coalition government has proposed the goal with the view to helping take jobs to the regions with roles in planting and in nurseries.

The plan will double current planting rates, and will result in a "carbon sink" to counter climate change and help fulfil New Zealand's obligations to global climate agreements.


I have a bit of an idea about planting trees because I once did it for a living.

Living in France at the time I had already worked in cornfields, cleaning holiday homes, and as a night-shift labourer in a prune factory (and yes, that was regular work).

Happy to take whatever available job to extend my stay, I jumped at the chance to work for a forestry company planting trees.

I ended up working there for ten months, and in that time personally planted about 250,000 pine trees - by hand - as well as about 1000 oak trees.

The daily minimum was 1800 pines, which on my first day seemed insurmountable.

After a week, however, I could make the quota by the end of the day, and after a month could comfortably achieve it by the early afternoon.

As I got faster and stronger it was entirely possible to not only achieve the quota of 1800 by midday - if conditions were favourable - but exceed it, sometimes by as many as 300-400.

As a casual worker I earned a little bit more than my hourly minimum wage by planting extra, but nowhere near as much as the permanent staff did.

So I would complete my 2000-2200 pines as early as possible then get paid to sit in the sun reading books or sleep under a tree.

All of which has little to do with the government's commitment to plant a billion trees over the next decade, other than to say that it is completely achievable - if not easy.

With the right incentives and the right conditions, one person could comfortably plant 400,000 trees in a year.

So you would need just 250 people planting that amount every year for a decade to reach a billion.

Employ double that and work six days a week and you can sleepwalk to your target.

Who will plant the trees seems to be the major challenge, given that Forest Owners Association president Peter Clark says that they are struggling to plant enough trees to just maintain current coverage due to a labour shortage.

But he also describes planting an extra 50,000 hectares each year as "optimistic but achievable".

For most of the 1990s the new planting rate was more than 50,000ha a year, and in 1994 was 100,000ha "beyond keeping up with replanting".

New Forestry Minister Shane Jones, of NZ First, has said the initial planting was to be on Crown and Maori land, so where the trees will go doesn't seem to be a problem.

Such a scheme is bound to have positive spinoffs across multiple sectors and across many regions.

It's a big, bold, ambitious plan, but entirely achievable.