Warmer winds carry fresh challenges to the major industries of Rotorua. Kim Fulton investigates the likely impacts of climate change on our key businesses and what is being done.

Unpredictable temperatures associated with climate change are proving a challenge for those in the forestry and farming sectors.

New Zealand's climate is changing with long-term trends towards higher temperatures, more hot extremes, fewer cold extremes, and shifting rainfall patterns in some regions, according to the New Zealand Climate Change Centre.

National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) data shows New Zealand's average annual temperature has already increased by about 0.9C over the past 100 years.

Forestry and related manufacturing made up 4.8 per cent of the Rotorua District's employment last year, compared to 1.6 per cent for the country as a whole, according to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's (MBIE's) Regional Economic Activity Report 2015.


Scion Research principal scientist Dr Tim Payn said more storms leading to increased risk of erosion was front of mind for those in the forestry sector.

"So probably not so much the temperature as the mixture of temperature, rainfall and those sort of extreme events."

A loss of top soil through erosion could decrease forest productivity. Fire prevention and monitoring was another priority.

Central government and the forestry industry were supporting research around drought tolerance and water use in pines, said Dr Payn.

"The idea being over time that you'd be able to pick, as we do at the moment for disease resistance, sort of drought tolerant genotypes."

Dr Payn said the forestry sector was looking at climate issues all the time and incrementally adapted as things changed.

Ongoing management included disease programmes, weed control, fire risk and wind risk. He said pests and diseases could increase as temperatures warmed, with wet and warm areas most susceptible.

Dr Payn said warmer climates would boost productivity for some plantations. There was no evidence at this stage that the locations of plantations would have to change based on current or future climates.

University of Waikato professor of agribusiness Jacqueline Rowarth said farmers were "absolutely" aware of climate change and were trying to adapt to it.

"Farmers get a bad press. Farmers are doing everything they can to set up their businesses in a resilient fashion and cope with what is going on."

The unpredictability of the weather was a challenge for farmers and they were preparing for weather events that may or may not happen, she said.

"I think the worst thing is drought, and the unpredictability of where the water is going to be has been impacting us for some time."

She said a proper water debate needed to take place in New Zealand, and that wasn't happening.

"We haven't reached the state of maturity that the debates can happen without the emotion that's rife.

"If you haven't got water then you can't grow grass so what are we going to do?"

Dairy farmers had installed shelters to keep animals cool and provided efficient ways of feeding animals when there was no grass, said Dr Rowarth.

Farmers were converting to dairy because it was easier to manage the environment for dairy than for beef and sheep.

"I think farmers have done a heap and the industry bodies are trying to help with the consideration of options but we do have animal welfare and of course human welfare, environmental welfare, all of those things to consider at once," she said.