Thursday, 18 January 2024 10:55

We're all in it together!

Written by  Elizabeth Heeg
FOA chief executive Elizabeth Heeg says hill country farmers and foresters have common concerns about regulations and climate change. FOA chief executive Elizabeth Heeg says hill country farmers and foresters have common concerns about regulations and climate change.

OPINION: Hill Country farmers and foresters have common concerns about regulations and climate change.

Leo Cooney (Rural News, 21 December) may want to legislate forestry out of existence, but the mutual interests of the two land uses should not be divided in this derogatory way.

For instance, immediately after Cyclone Gabrielle last February, Beef + Lamb NZ and the Forest Owners Association together lobbied strongly to get service roads in Tairāwhiti open again. This meant stock could be trucked off farms and foresters could get their crews back into the forests along those same roads.

The government had originally prioritised the arterial routes.

Stock and log trucks, and dairy tankers for that matter, all pay road user charges and their drivers and owners all pay rates. It is unfathomable why Leo Cooney thinks only log trucking should be held accountable to maintain rural roads.

Forestry is already heavily regulated under the National Environmental Standards for Commercial Forestry, which now includes carbon only forests.

The many thousand owners of farm woodlots will hardly want more unfounded restrictions imposed on them, as Leo Cooney demands.

Nor will hill country farmers, who are desperate for a way out of the decline in lamb prices (on top of terminal wool prices) welcome Cooney’s call to ban planting trees except on land which is ‘unsuitable for livestock farming’.

‘Suitability’ is not ELIZABETH HEEG just the land producing enough feed to graze, it is also a profitability requirement. Being made to continue farming by the government, just because an animal can find enough to eat on that land, is economic madness.

Even before the bad news on lamb prices, the average export return, per hectare of forestry, was three times higher than for hill country farming products.

Climate change is a major disruptor for everybody. Cyclone Gabrielle delivered rain on already wet soils at an intensity never before recorded. Droughts are to come in those same regions.

Gabrielle’s destruction – semimature pines, riparian trees and native trees – was constantly and erroneously publicised in the news media as harvest slash.

Attracting less attention was the dump of about 300 million tonnes of soil from non-forest land. Storm-displaced soil and wood both cause damage. Parts of the rural sector are government funded to restore their properties, whereas foresters are fined.

Livestock adds greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, an irrefutable fact, whether or not there is international demand for our food exports. Forestry, on farms or otherwise, sequesters carbon and is the reason why New Zealand’s net carbon dioxide emissions are not double.

Under the Emissions Trading Scheme, owners of forests and woodlots are paid for storing carbon in forests. It is not a market distorting subsidy.

It is another income stream for the sector which is making the greatest and most measurable contribution to meeting our national greenhouse gas reduction targets on behalf of us all.

There are all sorts of distortionary political pressures to discount, overlook, exclude or inflate the general principle that every tonne of tree stored carbon should be paid for at the same rate.

All foresters have a mutual interest in combating those distortions.

Genetic modification is on the mutual wish list for both industries as well. GM ryegrass would massively reduce stock methane emissions. GM Douglas fir, to make them sterile, should be made available to farmers in colder environments where they can’t plant Douglas fir at the moment without creating a wilding problem.

It is clear therefore, that trees and hill country farming should profitably and sustainably share the same landscape. It just needs the vision.

Elizabeth Heeg is chief executive for the Forestry Owners Association

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