New Zealand public wants limits on planting trees on productive farmland for carbon offsets, say farm groups; report finds forestry interests bought more than 52,000 hectares of land in 2021, up 36% on prior two years, and up from 7,000 hectares in 2017

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November 3, 2022 (press release) –

The majority of New Zealanders don’t agree with the Government’s approach of planting our way out of the problem of climate change and want limits on fossil fuel emitters planting exotic trees on productive farmland.

Joint media release with Federated Farmers

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Primary Industries Issues Poll October 2022 (PDF, 346 KB)
Orme and Associates summary (PDF, 2.23 MB)
The Orme and Associates report (PDF, 2.23 MB)

The research commissioned by Federated Farmers and Beef + Lamb New Zealand (B+LNZ) has found 54 percent of New Zealanders support a limit on the amount of fossil fuel emissions that can be offset with new pine forests. Meanwhile, almost two thirds of Kiwis oppose foreign companies buying New Zealand farms to offset their emissions.

The findings by Curia coincide with the release of a new independent report by Orme & Associates, commissioned by B+LNZ, which shows more than 52,000ha of land was purchased by forestry interests in 2021, a 36 percent increase on the previous two years, and up from 7,000ha in 2017.

This is far more than the 25,000ha a year of exotics that the Climate Change Commission has suggested are needed to achieve New Zealand’s climate change objectives.

B+LNZ is forecasting significant economic damage to New Zealand’s red meat sector, rural communities, and the economy as a result of the conversion of productive land into carbon farms.

Of the 175,000ha of land purchased for afforestation over the last five years, about 134,500ha is grassland suitable for planting in forestry.

If 100 percent of this suitable land was planted, B+LNZ expects this would lead to a decline of around 1 million stock units, equating to an annual farm production loss of $170 million at the farm gate and a cumulative production loss of $540 million from progressive planting from 2017 to 2022.

Downstream from the farm gate a further 44 percent of value is added from processing which at 2021-22 export prices equates to lost export receipts of $245 million annually and $775 million from progressive planting from 2017 to 2022.

“We have been tracking whole farm sales data on a regular basis and we’re increasingly alarmed at the scale, pace, and style of land use change across the country,” says Sam McIvor, chief executive of B+LNZ.

“In 2017, only 7,000 hectares of sheep and beef farmland was sold with the intention to convert into forestry, so the jump to 52,000 hectares in 2021 is a hammer blow for our farmers and our sector.

“B+LNZ supports the integration of exotic and indigenous forestry within farms. It can provide a win-win in helping New Zealand meet its climate change commitments while also continuing to support food production, underpinning vibrant rural communities and ensuring ongoing export revenue critical for New Zealand’s economic wellbeing.

“However, the scale of change is far in excess of what is needed, and the Climate Change Commission agrees with us on this. This will have significant long-term implications for rural communities and the wider New Zealand economy.”

The Curia research also showed that 61 percent of people support greater incentives to plant native forests over pine trees – this is something B+LNZ is pushing for as part of better recognition of sequestration under the Government’s proposals for pricing agricultural emissions and would better enable the integration of trees on farms.

Federated Farmers National President Andrew Hoggard says that given the rate at which the carbon price is expected to continue to rise, his organisation and B+LNZ are calling for urgent policy changes including limits to be placed on forestry offsetting within the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).

“New Zealand is currently the only country in the world to allow 100 percent offsetting of fossil fuel emissions within the ETS.

“The European Union only allows 10 percent and California eight percent. Clearly, the New Zealand Government hasn’t woken up to this fact.

“B+LNZ and Federated Farmers also want to explore the introduction of further changes to the Overseas Investment Office, limits on whole farms being converted into exotics going into the permanent category of the ETS and changes to the Resource Management Act.”

The Orme report reveals carbon-only farming (trees not intended for harvest) and the Overseas Investment Office purchase pathways, were the major drivers of the increase in farm sales.

The research also found that more productive land is now being purchased for afforestation purposes. LUC Classes 2-5 (identified as highly productive for pastoral or horticultural farming) have grown from 9.5 percent of farm purchases from 2017-2019 to 15.5 percent of purchases from 2020-2022.

While more than 50 percent of conversions took place on Land Use Class (LUC) 6 land, this land is still highly productive for food and fibre production via sheep and beef farming.

Only 21 percent of conversions took place on high or very high erosion prone land, with more than 78 percent of the purchases occurring on low or medium erosion prone land between 2020-2022.

“We’re calling on the Government to urgently work with us and other groups to develop and implement options before the effects on New Zealand’s food production and on its rural communities become much worse,” says McIvor.

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