Passion is spilling over from the rural sector into the city. Between 500 and 1,000 rural protesters, including sheep and beef farmers, have descended on Wellington today to protest about government policies affecting rural communities.
The march has been organised by rural lobby group 50 Shades of Green NZ, which describes itself as a group of concerned New Zealanders worried about the future of New Zealand and its food and natural fibre security. The group, formed in May, says on its Facebook page: “We are not against dealing with climate change, just the way we get there.
“We are about conserving the health and wellbeing of the provinces … and standing up for pastoral farming, for the protection of food producing farmland and the communities and businesses supported by agriculture.”
Chair Andy Scott says the conservation group’s message needed to be told to a larger audience. “The blanket planting of good farmland has reached crisis proportions. Add to that the water proposals, land-use changes and the consistent campaign against rural businesses, we have a problem,” Scott says.
“We are telling our story to a city audience by coming to Wellington. The politicians aren’t listening to us so hopefully the general voters will,” he says, adding it’s not only farmers coming to town, “but representatives of all of provincial New Zealand from farmers to bankers, stock agents to rural advocacy groups and suppliers through to real estate representatives.”
New Zealand’s farming communities are just asking for ‘A fair go,” he says.
“We are the men and women who grow your food. We work in the rain, sun, snow and wind to take care of this land, our animals and our families. We ask that the New Zealand Government take a step back, take a good hard look at what they are doing to rural New Zealand and have another try.”
The group is also asking for a fair go on agricultural emissions in the Zero Carbon Bill, on freshwater in the Essential Freshwater, National Environmental Standard, National Policy Statement and 360 Resource Management Act regulations, on land-use changes in the Emissions Trading Scheme and on mental health.
“The farmers of New Zealand and their families are being painted as environmental vandals by their own Government. Their persistent focus on farming being a ‘problem’ is perpetuating the groundswell of disgusting behaviour targeting farmers and even their children by extremist activitists intent on further their own agendas.
“This campaign against rural businesses and their families cannot be ignored, or worse given credibility by the Government or rural families will ultimately pay the price,” it says.
“We grow your food. You can’t eat wood,” was the message from the lobby group’s advertisement, prepared ahead of the March (watch below).
Nerves touched in forestry
The group refutes accusations from the forestry sector, where nerves have been touched, that it is opposing the One Billion Trees and climate change policies.
“In fact, we completely agree that farms are the best place for well planned plantations and other plantings. We believe this model should have been the preferred mode of delivering more trees to our landscapes, rather than selling farms wholesale,” says 50 Shades group member and environmental consultant Kerry Worsnop.
“The majority of farmers have already started the journey, focused on environmental economics and sustainability. We understand sustainability is not a destination, it is a journey. We are against blanket planting of pine trees on productive food producing land. We want a common sense solution for the long-term balance of the New Zealand landscape and economy and to protect what we value for future generations,” she says.
New Zealand Farm Forestry Association president Hamish Levack points to the existence of at least 10,000 owners of farm woodlots in New Zealand. “If farmers want to retire more of their farms to earn some more income by expanding their woodlots that should be their right,” he says. “And, if they want to plant out the whole farm that should be their right as well.”
Farmers criticising logs because timber can’t be eaten is ironic, he says, noting there is a good market for timber: “And that includes for making paper products, which are increasingly being substituted for non-biodegradable plastics.” In addition, timber product exports are 10 times the value of the wool industry for New Zealand, says Levack.
But, according to Worsnop, no-one is misrepresenting the threat to productive farmland that current policies pose. “We do not need to. Both the Parliamentary Commissioner of the Environment and PC reports have provided wide scale afforestation estimates needed to ‘offset’ fossil fuels at well over one million hectares – not our numbers, numbers coming out of Wellington for all to see,” she says.
These numbers warrant concern from everyone, including foresters who will want to retain ‘social licence to operate’, she suggests as they are ringing ‘dairy boom’ style alarm bells.
“No one can argue with the profitability of forestry which incorporates high carbon prices – we all (as citizens of NZ) should be asking what that means for our economic diversity 30 years from now when all the carbon payouts have dropped off, and if half the world has surplus wood to sell.
“Bushmen, contractors, harvest managers, they deal in logs and wood products (which while we can’t eat them) at least they are real products in a real market. Carbon doesn’t fit this bill and it should concern the men in the bush as much as it concerns us,” Worsnop explains, adding all the group is asking is that the farmland farmers rely on to support their communities is not pawned for the sake of 30 years worth of emissions.
For Ngāti Tuwharetoa Māori Trust Board chair John Bishara says the tribe, which owns substantial areas of land in the Lake Taupō catchment, is very familiar with the impacts of regulation on land-use flexibility. The usage of the Trust’s land “is proven to be making a far greater contribution to the protection of the Lake Taupō environment than that of other landowners in the catchment.
Ngāti Tuwharetoa are the perpetual owners of the lands, “And we would not welcome further regulatory imposition restricting our land-use flexibility,” he says.
Landowners need the options to meet market demands and environmental standards at the same time, says Forest Owners Association president, Peter Weir.
“For forestry that means we are pulling back from planting the most erosion-risk terrain and concentrating on farmland which has been economically marginal for livestock for a long time, but is less expensive to harvest trees on.
“That means there is concentrated planting at the moment by landowners in some eastern and southern regions of the North Island. This land will become even more marginal for livestock as climate change increases the frequency of summer droughts,” he says, adding it certainly does not mean the wholesale takeover of farmland.”
Plantation forest estate has shrunk since 2000. “It’ll take years at the current planting rate to get to the area of plantation of forestry we were at two decades ago,” notes Weir.
For more information about the march, which will start at Wellington’s Civic Square at 11am and finish at Parliament Buildings, see 50 shades of Green NZ’s Facebook page.