Some of you may have seen social media posts or signs with statements such as 'you can't milk a pine tree' and, my personal favourite, 'it's the farters versus the radiatas'.
These catchphrases come from a well-organised group called 50 Shades of Green.
The group will protest at Parliament today against what they say is mass afforestation that is decimating rural communities.
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What may come as a surprise is that we are on common ground. No one wants to see our primary sector, which brings in more than $46 billion a year in exports, impeded in any way. No one has an interest in that.
The Government is listening to rural communities' concerns and the narrative that farming is under threat from forestry is not backed by facts.
The level of new planting we're seeing is tiny compared to the boom of the late 1990s and the deforestation of the early 2000s. It's another chapter in our history of changing land use.
Under the One Billion Trees target, the amount of forestry land would increase from 1.7 million hectares to 2 million hectares by 2028. We had 2 million hectares of forest land in 2002 and between that year and 2016, while forestry land shrunk, the area of dairy farming land grew from 1.8 million hectares to 2.6 million hectares.
Farmland covers 12.1 million hectares in New Zealand – with about 8.5 million being in sheep and beef. Even if all new tree planting was on sheep and beef land, that would mean a 2.5 to 5 per cent reduction.
Despite what some say, the Government is not subsiding whole-farm conversions or allowing foreign carbon speculators to buy up farms, and plant permanent forests for carbon credits.
The One Billion Trees Fund's purpose is to help farmers integrate trees onto their properties, which helps diversify their incomes while improving environmental outcomes. We want the 'right tree, right place, for the right purpose'.
The Government provides higher grant rates for native species over pine. Two thirds of the trees established through the Fund will be natives.
The streamlined rules for offshore investors only apply to production forests so talk that the rules are being gamed by offshore carbon speculators is wrong.
The latest Overseas Investment Office statistics show about 8800 hectares of farmland has been converted to forestry under the new special benefits test – that's one thousandth of New Zealand's total sheep and beef land.
One of the issues is that some sales are happening between Kiwi buyers and Kiwi sellers. Farmers can choose who they sell to and it's not the role of Government to circumscribe farmers' property rights. We're actively encouraging the likes of the Real Estate Institute of New Zealand to provide more precise data about land sales so we can see how things are tracking. We're a proud, food-producing nation and the Government is committed to protecting our most productive soils.
Contrary to some reporting, there is no Government policy that encourages high-value pastoral land to be planted in pine trees nor is there evidence of this happening.
We're watching closely, as we know many parts of our economy, including farming, face adjustments as we grapple with the challenges of climate change. The Government committed $229 million in this year's Budget to help farmers and the primary sector through the transition. There will be more support.
The $3 billion Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) is injecting significant confidence into many rural communities, creating new opportunities and thousands of jobs.
We're focusing on wood processing to ensure a value chain is created through the One Billion Trees programme, not solely the planting of more trees, and horticulture and aquaculture continue to be priority areas for the PGF.
We're supporting skills and employment programmes, facilitating export growth, boosting food production and increasing water storage. Many of our farmers are planting trees now and taking other actions to improve things like waterway health because they know it will help their businesses and communities.
I look forward to meeting protesters outside Parliament today to hear their concerns and remind them this is not a Government that has turned its back on the primary sector; this is a Government that walks alongside it.
- Shane Jones is Minster of Forestry and Regional Economic Development. He is a member of NZ First.