New research shows negative impact of mass forestry planting on productive sheep and beef land

Jeremy Baker, Beef and Lamb NZ Ltd
Jeremy Baker.

Large scale conversion of sheep and beef farms to forestry as a result of the Zero Carbon Bill will have a significant negative impact on rural New Zealand, according to research released by Beef + Lamb New Zealand. 

An analysis of Wairoa, where 8,486 hectares of sheep and beef farmland has, or is in the process of being, converted to forestry, shows forestry provides fewer jobs in rural communities than sheep and beef farms.

Rural consultancy BakerAg was commissioned by B+LNZ to compare the economic and employment effects of the conversion of sheep and beef farms into forestry.

The report, Social-economic impacts of large scale afforestation on rural communities in the Wairoa District, found that if all the sheep and beef farms in Wairoa were converted to forestry, then Wairoa would see a net loss of nearly 700 local jobs (the equivalent of one in five jobs in Wairoa) and net $23.5 million less spent in the local economy when compared to blanket forestry (excluding harvest year).

“This report illustrates the huge risks of unintended consequences from poorly designed policy and emissions targets, which will incentivise a high level of afforestation and result in a devastating impact on rural communities,” says B+LNZ’s chief insight officer Jeremy Baker.

“The current targets for methane are excessive given the science on what is needed to limit warming, while at the same time there is unfettered access to offsets for fossil fuel emitters in the Zero Carbon Bill, despite fossil fuel consumption having to actually decrease. The net result is that it’s a real possibility that many districts like Wairoa across the country could see all their sheep and beef farms converted into forestry with disastrous consequences for the local community.

“This is why B+LNZ is supporting science-based and sensible methane reduction targets and restrictions on the amount of carbon dioxide that can be offset by trees.”

These concerns were reinforced by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment who forecast that under a net zero target for carbon dioxide, there would only be a 40 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions and some 5.4 million hectares of trees would likely be planted to offset the remaining 60 percent of fossil fuel emissions, equating to 70 percent of the effective area in sheep and beef farming: https://www.pce.parliament.nz/media/196523/report-farms-forests-and-fossil-fuels.pdf.

“Although forestry does provide some employment opportunities, these typically come in the final year of a pine plantation at harvest – usually the 30th year – and the nature of these jobs often sees them performed by crews who are based out of larger provincial centres rather than smaller rural towns. After the first harvest, the carbon value of the first is lost, leaving the residual economic contribution of that land at the mercy of international log prices” says Baker.

“It is also worth noting that most of the benefit from incentives such as carbon credits go to the landowners rather than local communities, with forestry owners frequently not living in the rural communities where their plantations are, as opposed to sheep and beef farms which are typically family owned and have on average five people living on them.

“The sheep and beef sector is willing to play its part to meet New Zealand’s international climate change commitments. It has already reduced its emissions by 30 percent since the 1990s – one of the few sectors to have achieved this.

“Sheep and beef farms also have some 1.4 million hectares of native forest and 180,000 hectares of plantation pine on them, so it’s important to build on this base and integrate sensible tree planting into sheep and beef farms rather than see wholesale conversion which is socially, economically, and environmentally unsustainable.”

B+LNZ supports:

  • A net zero target for carbon dioxide and restrictions on the amount of carbon that can be offset;
  • A net zero target for nitrous oxide;
  • A 10 percent gross reduction in methane by 2050 which is equivalent to net zero for carbon dioxide, and a further 12 percent net reduction in methane, if required, by 2050.

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