Currently you could be forgiven if you thought that Mycoplasma bovis, dairy payouts being under threat along with the National Animal identification and Tracking Act making headlines in our rural newspapers are all we seem to be concerned about. But wait, as the ad says, "There's more".

From where I now sit, the Productivity Commission's report has the above issues almost paling into insignificance with the direction and speed in which the report suggests we should heading in.

Commission chairman Murray Sherwin suggests that farmers should not be scared by the report on how New Zealand could achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

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Now the debate will start, but first you will need to read and inwardly digest some 624 pages of scientific data in an attempt to — and this will be the biggie for lay people — form an opinion as to where and how we should be heading into the future.

Sherwin's key message is that land use will have to change if New Zealand is to transition to a low-emissions economy by 2050.

The report has received cautious support from most industry pundits with the commission recognising the need for a strong funding base for research on mitigation to help reducing emissions into the future.

At a local level, we have historically seen large tracts of so-called marginal sheep and beef country going to plantation forestry. Add to this the recent increased planting of manuka on the same class of land for the growing bee industry.

Where will this leave some hill-country landowners?

This type of land use change will have significant impacts on local rural communities already struggling to maintain a sense of community spirit as people live in rural locations but work in towns where they can travel some 20km to 30km each day.

The economic and social impact of this in the long term would be devastating for small towns and communities.

The commission report suggests 1.3 million to 2.8m hectares of marginal land be put into forestry.

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In the Manawatu-Whanganui region, this could increase forested area by 300,000ha to 400,000ha with all this land coming from sheep and beef conversions.

What would this do to our small rural communities?

Brian Doughty
Brian Doughty

We have, in the past, talked of the issues confronting hill-country farmers in an attempt to maintain an economic and sustainable farming system given the pending environmental constraints.

But you don't have to go far from Whanganui to find hill-country farmers who have been working to this environmentally sustainable system for some years now with a mix of livestock and soil management along with production forestry.

For me, the report is an opportunity to start the discussion on being in a position to reach our 2050 goal of zero carbon emissions.

But this possibly opens up other discussions on the role of methane versus carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide in achieving the end goal — just the start of a long discussion.

Brian Doughty is a retired dairy farmer, tramper and Te Araroa trustee