The Government's One Billion Trees programme has stirred debate in the primary sector, with some farmers and rural communities questioning the value of converting sheep and beef land into pine plantations. Continuing yesterday's debate on The Country, host Jamie Mackay talks to sheep, beef and goat farmer and former chairman of the South Otago Farmed Forestry Association David Shaw as well as Minister of Agriculture and Rural Communities Damien O'Connor.
Replacing all our sheep and beef country with trees when we're already one of the most efficient producers of proteins and animal products in the world is kind of ludicrous, says sheep farmer David Shaw.
Talking to Jamie Mackay on The Country today, Shaw says sheep and beef farmers feel they've been backed into a corner.
Meanwhile, Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor says it's all a work in progress and there's plenty of room to plant a billion trees without taking up good farmland.
Jamie Mackay interviews David Shaw, a South Otago sheep, beef and goat farmer, farmed forester, former chairman of the South Otago Farmed Forestry Association and former board member for Silver Fern Farms:
Mackay: You were a keen listener to the forestry debate we had yesterday and you've emailed me overnight and you've made some salient points. Let's start with the first one you made - it's not a level playing field, forestry companies have overseas investment office exemptions for people to invest in land for trees. That was the point I made to Roger Dickie on yesterday's show.
Shaw: Yeah, and the problem with that is that farmers also now can't actually sell their land to the highest bidder, even if it's an offshore investor. So it gives the forestry sector quite an advantage to actually go buy these lands. Ultimately it's willing buyer, willing seller and land will drift to its highest paying land use but the reality is that we're probably going to see the wrong farms in the wrong districts and topography converted for the wrong reasons.
We saw the same issues in the SMP [Supplementary Minimum Prices] days. You have an incentive that distorts what happens to land use. Is that really balanced and should that be the way? It's creating a lot of contentious debate.
I've been up in the North Island the last two years talking to a number of farmers around looking at their land use options and obviously running goats in that kind of country and the reality is that some districts are being quite significantly affected by the change in land use and that presents a whole lot of risks over the medium-term.
Mackay: David, the interesting thing I took from Roger Dickie's arguments, and he put them quite eloquently I thought on occasions, was the fact that they're not after the scrubby old land out the back, the gully that's very, very steep. He said they're after good, clean open country. They want the better country, they want the rolling hill country that traditionally does belong to sheep and beef.
Shaw: We've seen that in the Wairarapa for example, there's about 100,000 stock units gone out of there. One farm that's been sold was a sheep farmer of the year farm. This one farm I looked over it was 1200 hectares but 300 hectares of it was class 7 or 8 and they're not actually allowed to plant that kind of country.
So is that the best use for that land in the medium-term and at the moment there's certainly incentives that the forestry guys can get by [the] Government helping them plant by offsetting carbon credits and things. But then sheep and beef guys can't actually utilise that land in offsets. They've got other taxes coming at them around methane and ultimately they're not quite exactly what the highest value of that land will be.
Listen to Jamie Mackay's interview with David Shaw below:
Mackay: David that carbon credit market to me is a wee bit like The Emperor's New Clothes - I'm not quite sure how it works and I'm not quite sure whether anyone's brave enough to yell out 'He's got no clothes on' there but we're talking about $25 per carbon credit or something at the moment in a market that could go to $300. If that's the case we'll end up being a nation of trees.
Shaw: Yeah and is mono-culture forestry really what we want to see in New Zealand? Certainly in some areas there's some very good forests and some very good forest owners but then we end up with catastrophes like [the] Nelson fire, like Tolaga Bay - who wears the liability for that type of disaster and do these companies go and pay back all the carbon when all the trees burn?
We just need a bit of balance here. The sheep and beef guys are looking for options and they've just got to have a fair opportunity really and I think a lot of the anger that is starting to emerge is because the sheep and beef guys are feeling as though they've been backed into a corner. They can't use all the tools, they can't increase their production through some of the new technologies and ultimately they need to produce more and be more efficient but they're being constrained at a whole lot of levels.
Mackay: OK final one and I threw this one at Roger Dickie. How else are we going to get to [a] Zero Carbon Neutral situation by 2050 without planting a hell of a lot of trees. I don't see another way.
Shaw: Yeah well again we've just got to be more efficient in what we do with our land and the reality is that just by replacing all our sheep and beef country with trees when we're already one of the most efficient producers of proteins and animal products in the world is kind of ludicrous because you end up the bad guys in New Zealand, subsidising and giving up their right to farm sheep and beef to be replaced by other people in other parts of the world.
Air New Zealand continues to fly. They can just carry on polluting and buy offsets to do that. Sheep and beef guys can't actually utilise the carbon sequestion that goes into the soils. They need to find other tolls and have access to new technologies as well. Which they do, and they will take up, but again, the rules seem to be quite biased at the moment and are favouring certainly one sector more than another.
Jamie Mackay interviews Damien O'Connor:
Mackay: We might not have to worry about animal diseases in the future because you're going to plant the whole country in trees.
O'Connor: Well you might want to, (Mackay: No I don't want to) I certainly don't want to. (Mackay: Shane wants to). No I've told Jonesy - keep off the good farms.
Unfortunately some farmers choose to sell to whoever they want to maximise the value of their property. It's not for us to say no you can't. We've said you can't sell to foreigners.
There are some kind of back room avenues for foreigners to come in and purchase forestry and we're just looking at that fact. I met with the mayor of Wairoa yesterday he's concerned with some farmers up there. There have been a few properties, good properties go for - they think - to be planted in forests and some of those were New Zealand purchasers actually.
Listen to Damien O'Connor on the One Billion Trees Programme below:
These are New Zealand companies that want to buy and offset their emissions. Look it's not perfect and I'm really concerned [if] we do plant good farms in trees because that is 30 years out of production and often going to take a long time to come back into farming so that's why I want to get wool prices up and make drystock farming more profitable so that less people want to look to forestry for a better return.
It's a work in progress I can assure you, and there is plenty of land around New Zealand to plant a billion trees without taking up good farmland.
•Hear the full Damien O'Connor interview on today's show here.