Tuesday, 19 November 2019 08:55

Government can’t see the wood for the trees

Written by  Peter Burke
About 1000 farmers and rural people assemble in Wellington’s civic square before marching to parliament. About 1000 farmers and rural people assemble in Wellington’s civic square before marching to parliament.

About 1000 people from around rural New Zealand marched on Parliament last week to protest the Government’s policies on planting trees.

The protest was organised by 50 Shades of Green, a group set up to oppose the Government’s policies. 

According to one of the organisers, Andy Scott, a real estate agent from Masterton, busloads of people from around the North Island came to Wellington especially to show their opposition to Government policies. 

The protestors assembled in Civic Square in the centre of the city and made their way down to Parliament Building.

Scott says the Government is not listening to the provincial sector. He says the blanket planting of forests with huge subsidies is taking out good, productive land from farming.

“It’s devastating... Pongaroa has just lost its school. The way it is happening is quite unbelievable,” Scott told Rural News

“Small, rural heartland towns are going because of the trees and, with that, jobs from shearers, fencers and a range of small rural support businesses right up to professional people in the bigger towns such as accountants and lawyers.” 

Scott says larger towns such as Wairoa and Masterton are also being hit.

He says the problem is not confined to the North Island. He says a lot of good, productive land in Southland and North Canterbury is also going into forest.

Scott told Rural News one of the aims of the protest was to make politicians and decisionmakers in Wellington aware of rural NZ’s concerns.

However, the Farm Forestry Association was not happy with the protest, claiming it highlights “deliberately created confusion” about the true nature and recent scope of forestry expansion.

President Hamish Levack says 50 Shades of Green’s demands that the Government restrict forest planting would not be supported by many farmers he knows.

“There’s at least 10,000 owners of farm woodlots in New Zealand.  If they want to retire some more of their farms to earn some more income by expanding their woodlots then that should be their right. 

“And if they want to plant out the whole farm that should be their right as well, and shouldn’t be stopped by some misinformed fringes of the farming community.” 

Levack says the 50 Shades of Green petition demanding the Government prevent farmers planting trees to offset carbon emissions sounds to him like “climate change denial”.

No threat to farming – O’Connor

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor has rejected the concerns expressed by the 50 Shades of Green lobby and others about farming being under threat from forestry. 

“Much of what’s circulating is based on misinformation,” he said in a prepared statement. “There is no Government policy that encourages high-value pastoral land to be planted in pine trees and there is no evidence of this happening.” 

O’Connor referred critics to the latest Overseas Investment Office statistics which claim that only about 8800ha of farmland had been converted to forestry under the new ‘special benefits’ test. 

“That’s one thousandth of New Zealand’s total sheep and beef land,” he said. 

“The Government is not subsidising whole farm conversions or allowing foreign carbon speculators to buy up farms and plant permanent forests for carbon credits.”

O’Connor also claimed 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.” 

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