Farmers not keen to plant more trees yet

Whether farmers would transform more of their land to forestry was a hot topic at the recent NZFFA annual conference.

It’s probably fair to say that Federated Farmers and the New Zealand Farm Forestry Association won’t be exchanging Christmas cards.

Using more land for forestry “risks the viability” of farming, Rotorua-Taupo Federated Farmers’ representative Neil Heather told the NZFFA annual conference in Rotorua on May 15-20.

Neil, who farms on Paradise Valley Rd near Rotorua, pulled no punches in his address during a panel discussion at the conference in Rotorua.

There are barriers to new forestry planting, says Neil. “You have to know how much to plant, what sort [of trees] and where to plant without affecting your farm business. And, does it make environmental concerns go away?”

Neil also questioned the current financial returns for timber. With its One Billion Trees Programme, the Government “prefers” forestry over farming, particularly drystock.

Neil notes that he’s planted thousands of trees on his family property, along the banks of the Ngongotaha River. “Farmers have done a hell of a lot of work environmentally and not received any kudos.”

Responding to a question from the audience, Neil says Federated Farmers’ views are not “extreme” and he believes climate change is “real”. “Federated Farmers is open to discussions to dispel myths.”

However, Neil expressed concern at overseas investment into farmland for conversion into forestry.

Fewer farms will see less agricultural production, with the resulting loss of schools and rural services.

“Just leave us to do what we do,” says Neil. “We know what’s best for our farms.”

Beef + Lamb NZ took the middle ground, with environment strategy manager Simon Stokes supporting the call to “get trees in the ground” but suggested the strategy is “moving too fast”.

“They are in fifth gear, but need to drop back to third or fourth.”

“Farmers [and people] have got to want to do it, not have to,” says Simon. “They are ready, but are they willing and able?”

Simon says a collective approach is required, with individuals, communities and catchments all working together.

Forestry needs to think of the millennial generation and provide a legacy for the future, says Simon.

Conference organiser Graham West says he’s worried about talk of “going slower” in forestry, particularly with this year’s conference theme being ‘Fast Forward’.

He recommends the association move to a more professional basis rather than a service group run by volunteers. “Or do we remain tree-huggers in home-spun jerseys?”


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