A Provincial Growth Fund of $5.8 million over three years will allow a Bay of Plenty nursery to scale up its production and expand its workforce ten-fold.
The fund, for Minginui Nursery, was announced by Forestry Minister Shane Jones and is part of a $1 billion fund officially launched last month.
"With the Government committed to seeing 1 billion trees planted over the next 10 years, we need to work with nurseries and help them increase production to ensure enough seedlings – both exotics and indigenous – are available to be planted," Jones said.
"The funding we're announcing today will allow Minginui Nursery to grow up to 1 million native trees every year and expand its current workforce from nine to 90."
The two-year-old nursery is owned by Ngati Whare Holdings and grows forest-grade podocarp species like rimu, totara, matai, kahikatea, miro and kauri, and also has a large order book for manuka, kanuka and other pioneer species.
Te Runanga o Ngati Whare chairman Bronco Carson said the money would be invested in employing and training people and expanding the nursery.
This would allow delivery of up to 1 million trees each year from 2021 and an estimated 7.5 million native trees within 10 years.
Ngati Whare would encourage its own people living in and around Minginui to upskill, be part of it, and to help deliver economic and social benefits to the area.
"Ngati Whare is kaitiaki (the guardian) of Whirinaki Forest," Carson said.
"After our Treaty of Waitangi settlement, we started with a plan to regenerate 640 hectares of the 55,000ha from pine to native by harvesting seeds and growing seedlings. Now Ngati Whare is at the forefront of helping develop a lucrative industry in indigenous forestry for New Zealand."
Jones said Minginui, 90km south east of Rotorua, was planned as a forestry town when built in the 1940s, but has experienced ongoing population decline since the closure of the sawmill in the late 1980s.
About 1300 people now live in the area, with fewer than 300 living in the town itself.
"Community development is the key driver for the nursery's move to increase its production of forestry grade native seedlings to an industrial scale," Jones said.
"With the Provincial Growth Fund's help, Minginui Nursery can play its part in rejuvenating the region, contributing to employment and skills development and better social outcomes for the community."
As well as employing locals, it's expected the nursery could draw skilled people back to the town.
Educational providers are being approached to provide bridging programmes for prospective employees and all staff will go through ongoing in-house training.
Meanwhile, Associate Minister of Agriculture Meka Whaitiri announced today establishing cellphone services for Minginui to support the scaling up of the nursery from commercial to industrial size.
"This coverage will enable the nursery to function effectively and efficiently in a modern competitive business environment and support this community.
"This service will build on Ngati Whare's previous investment of $40,000 in the wireless broadband infrastructure that is already in place and Ngati Whare's practice of investing in its social infrastructure."
The iwi's forest regeneration has seen it make a $1.6 million investment in the nursery at Minginui.
Ngati Whare has been working with Scion for the past five years to take Scion's world leading technology to grow native podocarp trees from cuttings into the commercial space.
Scion research and investments general manager Russell Burton said the partnership with Ngati Whare allowed it to prove the cuttings technology could be successful at scale inside a commercial nursery and as a result rapid mass production of viable podocarps at an industrial level was possible.
"What has evolved is a first of its kind, enabled by a successful technology partnership between a Crown Research Institute and Ngati Whare.
Ngati Whare Holdings commercial arm chairman Rick Braddock said the investment from the Provincial Growth Fund acknowledged that the output from the nursery supported the Government's agenda to deliver 1 billion trees, address national climate change goals, reinvigorate regional economies and grow skilled employment.
However, he says Ngati Whare's vision was firmly fixed on sustainable economic freedom for its whanau.