‘If sheep and beef farms convert to forestry on a nationwide scale at just half the rate that has occurred in Wairoa this last year, there will be no sheep and beef farms left by 2050’ (Neil Henderson, Gisborne farmer)
The agricultural sector is New Zealand’s largest industry, made up chiefly of pastoral farming and horticulture.
Table from Jock Allison 2016, What does the future look like for agricultural science?
The coalition government, however, is implementing a strategy squarely aimed at replacing the farming sector with forestry. The result will be depopulation of the countryside, the destruction of our environment and our way of life, and sets us on the road to poverty.
The measures include:
- Zero Carbon Bill
- Emissions Trading Scheme changes
- One Billion Trees Fund
- Fresh Water proposals
- The Biodiversity Strategy
- Overseas Investment Office incentives for conversion of farmland to forestry
Given the scope of the measures, there can be no question that the government is set on destroying the agricultural sector and replacing it with forestry, much of it foreign owned.
The Zero Carbon Bill
The Bill provides for eliminating New Zealand’s carbon dioxide emissions completely by 2050. It also aims at a 10% reduction in biological methane by 2030 and a provisional reduction of between 24%-47% by 2050.
There are a number of criticisms:
- Article 2 of the Paris Accord specifically prohibits countries from restricting food producers. ‘This Agreement […] aims to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change […] in a manner that does not threaten food production’.
- Despite New Zealand’s livestock farmers producing almost twice the milk and meat per kilogram of carbon dioxide than the global average, the terms of the Zero Carbon Bill mean they will face the harshest restrictions in the world.
- According the Bill’s own ‘Regulatory Impact Statement’, economic growth could slow by $5-12 billion per year over 2020 to 2050 – a loss of around $300 billion. Emissions-intensive sectors including farming ‘could see their output drop by 50 percent from current levels by 2050’.
- It is agreed that 3-5% of atmospheric CO2 is generated by humans. Of this, New Zealand is responsible for less than 0.2%, but in any case New Zealand is a net carbon sink – already sequestering three times its total emissions according to the NIWA CO2 recording station. . However the government wants New Zealand to offset the emissions of countries like China, not to mention the 95+% that is produced naturally.
Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS)
There are now proposals to bring farmers, previously exempt, into the ETS. The Interim Committee on Climate Change has recommended a special levy and rebate scheme, with farmers paying 5% of total emission costs by 2025. At the current New Zealand ETS price of $25 per tonne that will equate to 1 cent/kg of beef, 1c/kg of milk solids, 3c/kg of sheep meat and 4c/kg of venison. As with GST, there is no guarantee that the discount will remain at 95%. There are also considerable infrastructure costs., i.e. measurement tools to be set up on affected enterprises.
One Billion Trees Fund
The government is providing funds to encourage the planting of one billion trees by 2028. At least half of this is likely to be pinus radiata forest plantations, probably much more. According to forestry Minister Shane Jones, ‘ the commercial forestry sector [is] projected to plant half a billion trees in the next 10 years’.
From the Fund’s website: ‘Direct Grants from the One Billion Trees Fund are available to landowners, including private landowners, farmers and Māori landowners, to help with the costs of planting trees or assisting reversion to native forest. Funding is available for plantings of a minimum of an acre for native trees, and 5 acres for exotics.’
‘we have seen […] modelling that suggests 68 percent of drystock farms in the Waikato/Waipa catchment would be converted into forestry as a direct result of the proposed regulations.’ (Andrew Morrison, B+LNZ)
Under the previous government, initiatives to clean up the waterways resulted in dairy farmers fencing off over 98 per cent of waterways and spending over $1 billion in environmental investment over the past five years. Labour however has made a bid for the moral high ground, environmentally speaking, by drafting proposals that will put more pressure on the farming sector.
The discussion document on a new National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management details proposals that would:
- Impose immediate ‘tight restriction’ of agricultural land use intensification ahead of all regional councils having new freshwater plans in place no later than 2025;
- Require all farms to have a ‘farm plan with a freshwater module’,
- Immediate action to reduce nitrogen loss in a range of at-risk catchments across the country;
- Much more stringent rules for the exclusion of stock from waterways than those applied in the dairy industry’s Clean Streams Accord, including deeper setbacks from waterways, fencing or control of stock into waterways under a metre wide, and applying greater stock restrictions;
- New controls relating to winter grazing and feedlots;
- Requiring any vegetable-growing operation wanting to increase its production to get a resource consent.
- Plans to lock down current land uses will have a disproportionate effect on the majority of sheep and beef farms that are low input, extensive systems with a light touch on the environment.
- The document gives an estimated annual average cost for a lowland dairy farm at $9,350, rising to $14,850 for a rolling hill country sheep and beef farm, and $9,200 a year for a vegetable growing operation. Farm management plans alone will cost thousands. A total figure of one billion is mooted.
- The lack of science: nitrogen is an element essential for life, which New Zealand soil lacks, along with a number of other important minerals. No science is provided to explain at what point the quantity of nitrogen becomes poisonous.
- Sheep and beef farmers have already been working to address a wide range of environmental issues
- Given that the principle causes of water pollution are cities, particularly their sewage systems, targeting the agricultural sector at the same time as bringing in other measures which undermine its viability is questionable.
‘These proposals will undermine the viability of a low-intensity sector which supports over 80,000 jobs and generates exports of $9.1 billion a year. It risks decimating rural communities, especially when coupled with other proposed policies such as the Zero Carbon Bill.’ (Beef + Lamb New Zealand)
The Biodiversity Strategy ‘Discussion Paper’
The Biodiversity Strategy has serious implications for rights pertaining to all land and water use. If the American experience is a guide, this will impact on the meanest ditch, or the ability to collect rain-water.
30% of New Zealand is forested (far more than most industrialised countries); there is unforested reserve land in our national parks and elsewhere. Apart from land defined as forested, there is considerable native bush on farms and suburban sections.
‘The restoration and protection of indigenous biodiversity’, so that ‘by 2050 biodiversity is […]restored’. ‘Our species, habitats and ecosystems […] are increasing, not declining’: ‘Large-scale planning and action being undertaken for large geographical areas in high priority places (e.g over 500,000 hectares)’ ‘A complete network of biodiversity hubs across New Zealand’ joined by ‘corridors […] from the mountains to the sea’.
- Although New Zealand already has substantial reserves and native forest, the biodiversity strategy is not simply about preservation and improvement of those areas, but vigorous expansion, with an on-going open-ended commitment to increase land dedicated to biodiversity. Full restoration can only be achieved by humanity departing, or being corralled into the smallest possible space (ie through housing New Zealanders in apartments instead of in homes with gardens).
- Corridors from the mountains to the sea: this is an idea from the American Wildlands Project which aims to create huge corridors for large animals to roam the length of North America. No science is provided to explain why this would benefit NZ fauna, who already have corridors via farms and gardens, but do not necessarily need to travel the length of the country.
- The Strategy will entail regulations (‘tools) to facilitate taking or controlling the use of private land: this idea is a repeated theme in the document.
NB: The draft biodiversity strategy makes no reference to the home garden, either in its list of ways to enjoy the outdoors, or as an ecosystem in its own right. Rather, it describes New Zealand as one of the most urbanised countries in the world, evoking an image of the New Zealand as land of apartment dwellers, clearly false.
The Department of Conservation seeks to create an octopus-like empire that is part of all decision-making relating to land and water use. DOC plans to intrude on every aspect of life, from businesses to farms to suburban homes. The intention is to make biodiversity part of all decision-making, and ‘All areas of significant biodiversity on land [will be] mapped and protected.’ The need for increased ‘long-term targeted funding’ is stressed repeatedly.
The draft Biodiversity Strategy is closely modeled on the American Wildlands Project, which proposes that 50 % of American territory be core wilderness reserves, joined by wilderness corridors. Both are implementations of Agenda 21, a non-binding UN-drafted agreement signed by NZ in 1992, which calls on governments to intervene and regulate nearly every potential impact that human activity could have on the environment.
A family in Colorado is being told they can’t use a motorized vehicle to get to their home in the mountains and when they prepared a legal case, their home was seized by the local government. Property owners in California are being told they can’t plant on their farms and all water, including ditches, is being put under the control of the EPA. [Environmental Protection Agency]. One Wyoming man can’t have a pond on his property because of the new rules. (S. Noble, Agenda 21, a Plan to Take Your Land and Give it to Tortoises).
New Zealand encourages overseas investment in forestry and offers streamlined ways to do this. (Overseas Investment Office)
Farmland is defined by the Overseas Investment Office (OIO) as ‘sensitive land’ and purchase by overseas interests requires OIO approval. An exception is made for farmland that is to be converted to forestry. Overseas investment in forestry is actively encouraged: ‘Generally overseas investors buying fewer than 1000 hectares of forestry rights per calendar year are exempted from needing consent.’ It is hardly surprising that there have been an increasing number of sales of productive farmland to overseas investors specifically to convert to forestry. In many cases the blocks are the full 1000 hectares, in some cases larger blocks are sold, e.g.
The OIO has found Dickie was in breach of OIO rules when he sold 1727ha Hadleigh Station, also near Masterton, for $13.4m to Austrian Countess Veronika Leeb-Goess-Saurau, but it said it had no power to take action against him. (European Aristocrats Buy Large North Island Farms for Forestry Conversion)
Logging produces carbon emissions
Recent research indicates that forests that are logged every 25 years are net emitters of carbon dioxide. Taking into account factors such as the carbon released as the roots of cut trees rot in the ground and the fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides applied to tree plantations, one study concluded that logging in North Carolina, for example, emits 44 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. Forestry can only be a net carbon sink if more environmentally sound practices are followed.
The main such practice would be to cut trees every 60 or 90 years rather than every 30 years or less. Those cuts should be done in small patches rather than clearcutting vast areas. And foresters should grow a mix of native species rather than monocultures of alien species. Such forests would store more carbon and support more wildlife.
The New Zealand government has at no point flagged such a solution, but proposes to cover the country with a monoculture of exotic pinus radiata.
The government’s plans to cover the soil with exotic forest, wind turbines and solar farms will inevitably have a dramatic effect on the visual environment. Furthermore, pinus radiata plantations are grown on fertile pasture which it impoverishes, souring the soil when New Zealand soil and water are already acidic, and are hostile to flora and fauna. Should a change of policy, or an economic disaster, mean that forested land is reclaimed for farming, the costs to make it fertile again will be phenomenal.
‘We know that in other regions, large areas of forestation and monoculture of trees have meant that […] rural schools have closed down and rural communities have moved away and disappeared.’ (William Beetham, Wairarapa Federated Farmers)
China has been building cities, with no employment opportunities, in advance of its enforced evacuation of the countryside. In a move eerily reminiscent of China, Wellington City Council has declared the need to build apartments to house another 80,000 residents by 2050, provenance unspecified.
While the kind of pressure in New Zealand might differ qualitatively from that applied in China, the results will be the same in terms of the demise of a lifestyle, transferring the populace from low-density rural communities and city suburbs to apartment living.
The implications of government measures go well beyond the cost for the tax payer of incentives, infrastructure etc. Farms are being taken out of production; trees being planted now under the new incentives will not show a return for 25 years. There is no evidence that long-term forestry is a viable alternative to farming.
China is currently planting a pine forest the size of Ireland, and plans to eventually cover 25% of its land area in forestry. This is not because it buys the global warming narrative and aims at ‘zero carbon’ – China is also seeing a huge roll-out of coal-fired power-stations. However:
- China will be able to pay the Kyoto game and have carbon credits to sell to the West and,
- China will be able to corner the market in cheap timber for biofuel, etc. New Zealand will have to compete with China in the sale of forest products.
- Measures to reduce emissions, such as ETS and Zero Carbon, will have almost zero impact on atmospheric CO2 and methane, in the light of what is produced naturally and by much larger countries.
- Forestry plantations logged every 25-30 years will be net emitters rather than carbon sinks
- The special exemptions for forestry make a joke of our Overseas Investment policy.
- The conversion to forestry will have enormous negative effects on the environment and rural lifestyles.
- Large sections of rural New Zealand will be in foreign ownership.
- It is hard to see how conversion to forestry can do other than destroy the economy and impoverish the country.
The decision to convert New Zealand from pasture to pine plantation makes no sense economically or environmentally. It is an ideological decision on the part of the NZ Labour and Green Parties, relying on junk science at every turn, and shows a callous disregard for the well-being of New Zealanders.
50 Shades of Green (NZ organisation to stop the blanket planting of good farmland, and its sale to overseas interests)