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An Austrian company has been given consent to buy a 2018ha sheep and beef farm at Mount Trotter, near Palmerston.
The Overseas Investment Office approved the sale of the farm to 100% Austrian-owned company Cerberus Vermogensverwaltung GmbH, from Peter and Susan Lawson, as trustees of the Lawson Family Trust, for $8.5million.
The consent states the company intends to develop about 1524ha of the land into a commercial forest, principally in pine trees, and has received resource consent to do so. Planting is expected to start next year, and the trees would be harvested in 26 to 32 years.
It was one of five sales of forestry land or farmland for conversion to forestry in New Zealand to overseas companies approved by the Overseas Investment Office in July. Other sales included a breeding and finishing farm in the Clutha district and a sheep, beef and deer farm in Waikato.
The sales were approved under the special forestry test, which was introduced to smooth the way for increased forestry investment but has prompted concern from some farming communities, which fear population decline and the loss of jobs if farms are blanket-planted in pines.
North Otago farmer Jane Smith said the environmental risks of large-scale production and carbon forestry had not been modelled, and the "next generation is going to pay the price". She was also concerned about the more immediate social and economic impacts of forestry conversions.
While she was "much more open" to production forestry than permanent carbon forestry, she was frustrated conversions did not come under the same amount of scrutiny as other land-use changes.
She suggested converting smaller pockets of native forestry, among pasture, would be "much better" than blanket planting.
"Even though they’ll only sequester carbon for that same amount of time, at the end of the day you’ve still got something nice that’s going to be there forever; that’s not going to look like an abandoned apocalypse afterwards, in 30 years’ time.
"That’s what worries me, that in 30 years’ time we’ll be back in Weston Hall saying ‘Why did we let this happen?"’
Two public meetings on carbon forestry have been held at the Weston Hall this year, sparked by concerns about the sale of Hazeldean, a 2500ha farm near Tokarahi, to New Zealand Carbon Farming (NZCF). NZCF plans to plant about 1500ha of Hazeldean in a permanent pine forest to mitigate climate change through carbon credits.
Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher said the Waitaki District Council was one of several councils in New Zealand affected by carbon forestry conversions, and as a group they were lobbying the Government for changes to legislation.
"At the moment, it’s very permissive ... and we need it to be better than that so it does look after us, and it is about putting the right tree in the right place."
The Lawson family was approached for comment about the sale of their property but had not responded before deadline.