The New Zealand Farm Forestry Association has to act now for “our children’s future”. This is the hard-hitting message from Graham West, organiser of the association’s annual conference in Rotorua from May 15-20.
“Farm forestry transformation needs to be on fast-forward – the conference’s theme,” says Graham.
Citing the sector’s capability to enhance the environment and contribute to the economy, Graham says forestry is the key to New Zealand’s future sustainability.
“Small forestry growers can be the future chemical, fibre and energy suppliers.”
Graham says trees are this country’s “future oil wells” and can provide a long-term substitute for fossil fuels.
However, Graham does admit that the NZFFA needs to “organise and sell” the idea, and convince landowners and politicians.
Co-operation and communication are keys to making this happen, with a particular emphasis on recruiting and retaining younger members.
Graham says the association needs to build stronger relationships with groups and organisation including iwi, Beef + Lamb NZ and Federated Farmers, plus obvious links with councils and the Government.
Forestry Minister Shane Jones created “a bit of a buzz” on the eve of the conference when announcing a further $58 million injection into the forestry sector.
Part of this will be used to build a Te Uru Rakau Forestry New Zealand office in Rotorua, creating 80 jobs.
The Minister says the funding will allow FNZ to increase its regional presence to ensure foresters and landowners have the support they need and will also see the agency focus on the Government’s goal of developing a sustainable domestic forestry workforce.
Graham says the NZFFA should be part of this action. “There is a crying need for better representation around small forestry. There is no-one else representing this sector.”
He says the association needs to engage not just with its members, but the 12,0000 small forest owners across NZ.
Graham recommends the association tap into Government funding to employ professional administrative staff, while also increasing efforts on the youth front.
Fourteen Young Farm Foresters attended this year’s conference, a figure he hopes to double in 2020.
The NZFFA has around 1500 members in 25 branches nationwide, with 260 registering for this year’s conference.
Feedback forms from members who attended the Rotorua event will now be analysed, with all information and recommendations – including those by three working groups – reported to the NZFFA council in six months’ time.