Forest growers are gearing up for a March vote on whether the forest levy, which came into effect in 2014, should continue for another six years.
Forest growers will vote on whether or not they want the levy, introduced to collectively fund initiatives to support the success of New Zealand forestry, to stay.
If continuation for another six years is approved, they will also agree what range the levy will be set at.
Currently the levy is 27c per tonne of harvested wood, and the industry is being asked to approve a new levy range of 23c-33c.
The levy started in 2014 and was set for six years. In 2018, the levy raised $9.5 million, up from $6.5 million the first year the levy was introduced. The levy is applied to a range of activities that benefit the industry, and in 2018 more than half of the available funds were spent on research and development.
Forest Owners Association spokesperson Don Carson points to research and development on harvesting mechanisation as one of the many ways the levy has benefited the industry since its inception.
“Seven years ago, around one-quarter of trees were felled mechanically – today it’s around half, and it’s estimated that this work has reduced the cost of harvesting by $8 per cubic metre,” says Don.
The programme to improve mechanisation of tree felling has been funded by the levy and the Government’s Primary Industry Growth Partnership Fund.
Forest owners have had the opportunity to hear more about the levy at a series of 13 meetings up and down New Zealand during October and November 2018.
Attended largely by small woodlot owners, Don says while there were some challenging questions and lots of ideas about how the levy could be spent, comments expressed at the meetings indicated broad support for continuation of it.
Jeff Ashby, owner of 200ha of forest at several sites in South Taranaki and Wanganui, is a firm supporter of the levy.
“It’s multi-pronged,” says Jeff, referring to the fact that the levy funds a range of activities including transportation initiatives, fire prevention and management, forest biosecurity projects, health and safety, training and environmental programmes.
“The holistic way the levy is applied is great and I’m happy to see a focus on training. A lack of skilled labour is a factor impacting the industry.”
Jeff says the other advantage is the levy is applied at a stage when, generally, foresters are in a positive cashflow situation, which makes the levy easier to manage.
The forest levy vote will take place in March-April 2019, and forest owners that intend to harvest their trees from late-2019 to 2025 are eligible to vote.