BLNZ looking into impact of land conversion

Andrew Morrison.
Andrew Morrison.
Beef + Lamb New Zealand has expressed concerns about the potential impacts on communities of ''wholesale conversions'' of regions into forestry.

There have been growing concerns in the past few months about the increase in sales of sheep and beef farms into forestry.

In an update to farmers, BLNZ chairman Andrew Morrison said the organisation was working to get a better understanding of exactly what was happening, why it might be happening, quantifying the potential impacts on regional communities, and what the solutions might be.

Last week, BLNZ brought farmers from throughout the country to meet 20 MPs from both the coalition Government and National, to draw attention to the concerns.

''We are working to understand the extent of sheep and beef farm conversions to forestry. There appears to be an increase linked to forestry and carbon farming investment driven by future expectations around the carbon price under the Zero Carbon Bill and OIO settings, rather than the One Billion Tree programme.

''A lack of timely data is making it difficult to quantify the extent of this, and getting better data is an immediate focus for us,'' Mr Morrison said.

BLNZ was very supportive of opportunities to integrate native and plantation forestry into existing farming operations and welcomed the Government's support for that under the One Billion Trees programme.

Done well, that integration could help meet New Zealand's climate change commitments and have other environmental benefits.

But it was concerned about the potential impacts on communities of ''wholesale conversions of regions into forestry'', he said.

Analysis of statistics in the Wairoa district found 1000ha in sheep and beef farms supported seven jobs, compared to only one job per 1000ha from forestry.

BLNZ had commissioned work by NZIER and BakerAg to undertake more comprehensive analysis of impacts on employment and regional communities.

''We do not believe the Government wants blanket forestry covering productive pastoral land and we will continue to work with partners to identify what the solutions could be,'' he said.

ANZ's latest Agri Focus report said the extra revenue available from carbon credits, combined with government subsidies for planting, was expected to encourage extra land to be planted in trees.

Whether or not carbon credits were harvested, forestry could provide a higher return from the land than many sheep and beef farms were attaining at present.

But anyone looking to convert land to forestry should thoroughly investigate the costs and potential returns that applied to their particular block, and understand the implications of selling carbon credits.

''In many instances, the carbon revenue can provide much needed cash-flow, which can also help with succession planning. But it does have implications for the next generation should they wish to change the land-use of the property,'' the report said.

In the rural property market, demand for grazing properties had been bolstered by strong returns in the past couple of seasons in the sheep, beef and deer farming sectors, along with demand for land to plant trees on.

The planting subsidies were not the motivating factor for the larger-scale investors, who were buying farms they intended to plant in their entirety in trees.

Rather it was the potential returns from carbon and/or the returns from harvesting pinus radiata trees which was motivating the change in land use.

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