Concern about rate of forestry conversions

Concerns continue to be expressed about productive farm land being turned into carbon farms....
Concerns continue to be expressed about productive farm land being turned into carbon farms. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
Beef + Lamb New Zealand says the rate of whole-farm sales and conversions to carbon farming in the country is "out of control".

The Government’s announcement last week that exotic trees would no longer be removed from the permanent category of the emissions trading scheme (ETS) was a step back from addressing the "deeply concerning" sale of sheep and beef farms, chief executive Sam McIvor said .

Overseas Investment Office decisions for June show consent has been given under the special forestry one-off purchase for the acquisition of nearly 2300ha of land, running sheep and beef, for conversion to forestry.

Approval was also granted for the sale of a dairy farm for forestry conversion and an existing forestry block.

None of the purchase prices were disclosed, and all were in the North Island. Some of the properties were for planting in plantation forestry (pinus radiata) which would be harvested.

Among the successful applicants was Drylandcarbon One Ltd Partnership, which received consent to acquire four properties — 947ha at Taumaranui, 80ha at Owhanga, 104ha in the Far North, and 329ha at Pohangina.

Dryland Carbon is a partnership between Air New Zealand, Contact Energy, Genesis Energy and Z Energy. It has established a portfolio of exotic forests for both timber and carbon credits to meet their compliance surrender obligations under the ETS.

Toitu Te Whenua/Land Information New Zealand said all of the decisions were made under the special forestry test, which meant the land must be used for plantation forestry activities such as maintaining, harvesting, and/or establishing a crop of trees. The consent explicitly excluded permanent forestry.

B+LNZ has called on the Government to urgently clarify its plans to address the issue, with Mr McIvor saying the last week’s decision came out without context.

"In March this year the Government released consultation material that acknowledged significant concerns about carbon farming, specifically the amount of whole sheep and beef farms being sold into carbon-only farming where exotic trees are planted with no intention to harvest.

"While we didn’t think their proposal to change the permanent category in the ETS would fix the problem, at least it was a step in the right direction.

"Now all of a sudden the Government has done a u-turn and we have no indication of how they intend to address an issue they’ve previously acknowledged. The lack of information is deeply concerning."

While there were legitimate concerns raised during the consultation process about missed opportunities, B+LNZ believed those could have been addressed through an exemptions regime.

In the meantime, more farms were being sold for carbon farming and that was "gutting rural communities" and jeopardising the $12billion annual income the sheep and beef sector generated.

In its report to Climate Change Minister James Shaw last month, the Climate Change Commission said Inaia Tonu Nei — the first commission’s first advice to Government on Climate Action — noted that increasing the amount of native and exotic forest could play a role in helping achieve the country’s emissions budgets and emissions reduction targets.

Through its consultation, the commission heard concerns that whole farms could be planted in exotic forests, either for production forestry or permanent carbon forestry.

The scale of conversion and associated unit supply into the NZ ETS could be substantial and could affect the achievement of gross emissions reductions.

The impact of the NZ ETS on land-use change could be material to the economy in some communities.

"Addressing this issue may require further changes to the design of the NZ ETS which are beyond the scope of this advice and may have implications for future NZ ETS settings advice."

Meanwhile, wool industry stalwart David Ferrier, who has bought a stake in woolscouring company WoolWorks, said the company was keeping a close eye on the conversion of productive farmland into carbon farms.

"We share the red meat sector’s concerns about the unbridled ability of fossil fuel emitters to offset their greenhouse gas emissions by planting trees on productive sheep and beef farms.