Meat & Livestock News

Forestry and Farming: A Shared Vision for Sustainable Land Use

In a recent discussion, the mutual interests of forestry and farming were highlighted, emphasising the need for collaborative efforts rather than divisive tactics. This perspective counters Leo Cooney’s suggestion to legislate forestry out of existence, as presented in Rural News on 21 December.

A prime example of this collaboration was evident following Cyclone Gabrielle in February. Beef + Lamb NZ and the Forest Owners Association jointly advocated for the reopening of service roads in Tairāwhiti. This initiative was crucial for both industries, allowing stock transportation from farms and enabling forestry workers to access their sites.

The government initially focused on arterial routes, but the joint efforts of these associations underscored the importance of these service roads for various rural sectors. It’s important to note that all these industries, including stock, log trucks, and dairy tankers, contribute significantly through road user charges, taxes, and rates.

The notion that only log trucking should bear the responsibility for maintaining rural roads, as suggested by Cooney, is unfounded.

Forestry in New Zealand is already subject to stringent regulations under the National Environmental Standards for Commercial Forestry, which now encompasses carbon-only forests. Imposing additional unwarranted restrictions, as Cooney proposes, would not be welcomed by the thousands of farm woodlot owners or hill country farmers. These farmers are already grappling with challenges like declining lamb prices and unprofitable wool markets.

Cooney’s suggestion to restrict tree planting to areas ‘unsuitable for livestock farming’ overlooks the broader economic context. Profitability, not just the land’s ability to support grazing, should be a key consideration. Mandating continued farming on land based solely on its grazing capacity is economically irrational.

Forestry has proven to be more lucrative than hill country farming in terms of average export returns per hectare. This economic aspect becomes even more critical in the face of climate change, which is disrupting traditional farming practices.

The intense rainfall from Cyclone Gabrielle, for example, caused unprecedented damage, often misreported as harvest slash. The storm also resulted in significant soil displacement from non-forest land, highlighting the environmental challenges faced by both sectors.

The role of forestry in carbon sequestration is vital. It not only contributes to New Zealand’s greenhouse gas reduction targets but also provides an additional income stream for the sector through the Emissions Trading Scheme. This scheme compensates forest and woodlot owners for storing carbon, a crucial step in addressing climate change.

There’s a shared interest in both industries for genetic modification. GM ryegrass could significantly reduce livestock methane emissions, while GM Douglas fir, modified to be sterile, could be beneficial for farmers in colder regions without the risk of creating a wilding problem.

In conclusion, Elizabeth Heeg, chief executive of the Forestry Owners Association, advocates for a shared vision where forestry and hill country farming coexist profitably and sustainably. This vision requires a broader perspective, recognising the interconnectedness and mutual benefits of both sectors.