Forest owners to vote on industry levy

Forest owners will vote next year in a referendum on whether to introduce an industry-wide levy - payable at harvest time - to be used largely for science and biosecurity research.

Proposals for a levy have been mooted for more than a year and consensus has been sought among the more than 10,000 forestry block owners around the country, which range from corporations to investor groups and farmers.

At present, funding for research and development comes from voluntary contributions of about $3 million to $4 million annually and, while the proposed levy rate has not been finalised, it is expected to be around 40c a tonne, which would not be due until harvest time.

The Forest Owners' Association, representing more than 100 large forestry owners, and the Farm Forestry Association, whose more than 2000 members own mainly small forestry blocks, put out a joint statement last week.

They called for a "fairer and more cohesive industry, where all growers are involved and playing their part".

The two associations account for more than 80% of the plantation forest harvest, but represent less than 25% of the sector's total 10,000-plus growers. By law, to introduce a commodity levy on logs, the referendum must find support on two fronts, votes to be apportioned both according to the number of individual growers and by the forest area they represented.

Farm Forestry Association president Ian Jackson said at a recent industry-wide workshop the grower representatives had made a commitment to increased science funding.

"There's a recognition that in order to increase profitability we need a step-change in the way we do things. We need to produce higher yields of better-quality timber and to harvest it more efficiently.

"That means making a bigger investment in well-targeted research," he said in a statement.

The referendum was to be held in December, but after decisions made at the recent science and innovation workshop, it has been delayed until March.

Forest Owners' Association vice-president Paul Nicholls said work which benefited all growers had long been funded by the voluntary subscriptions and the efforts of those growers who belonged to an association.

"That voluntary work will continue. But the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead need the commitment of all growers, not just the enthusiasts," Mr Nicholls said in a statement.

He cited the issue of fighting forest pests and disease as an example of where all growers could be involved in forest monitoring and provide funding for biosecurity research and readiness.

Between 60% and 70% of the funds generated by the levy would be used for science funding.

The two associations are setting up a joint board to oversee the Forest Voice Referendum, which will have a website (www.forestvoice.org.nz) operating by November 1 to explain the strategy and voting procedures.

simon.hartley@odt.co.nz

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