Shane Jones rejects notion Billion Trees Programme is stripping farming community of land

Pastoral farmers are concerned the recent trend of converting large sheep and beef farms to land for forestry could have disastrous consequences for communities, the economy, and are blaming the Billion Trees Programme.

Over the last 18 months, the general trend that saw forestry land move into farm land reversed, with the conversions happening mainly in the central and eastern North Island.

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Mr Jones responds to concerns farm land converted into pine forest could have negative environmental and social impacts. Source: Q+A

It has increased the price for their land, but head of Federated Farmers Wairarapa William Beetham is worried about the impact the shift will have.

"If these beautiful, highly productive farms are going into forestry, there’ll be nothing there for future generations both rural and urban."

Ministry of Primary Industries told TVNZ1's Q+A the sudden increase of buying pastoral land for commercial forests is due to high log prices, high carbon credit prices and the Government’s push to plant one billion trees. It is aiming to plant one billion trees by 2028.

Farmer Derek Daniell said he was increasingly concerned about the environmental impact of pine trees.

Recently, a Canadian and US study confirmed pine trees emit a chemical that stops methane breaking down.

However, Forestry New Zealand is currently processing grants and subsidies for growers, with the Overseas Investment Office (OIO) making it easier for buyers to invest in forestry.

If the prospective buyer can show they will contribute toward the billion trees goal, the OIO will fast track the application.

Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones told Q+A that farmers cannot criticise the growth of forestry if they reject the idea of a carbon tax, when he addressed concerns the farm conversion could impact local communities and the environment.

"Farmers can’t have it both ways," Mr Jones said.

"If we’re to meet the costs of climate change, then one transitional measure is expanding the size of the nation’s lung.

"Farmers themselves, I’m told, they don’t want a carbon tax. They want to work with the Crown and have a mixed model."

Mr Jones rejected the notion the Billion Tree strategy was stripping the farming community of land.

"I don’t buy into the exaggerated claims that the Billion Tree strategy is destroying the Wairarapa economy… We are in the business of allocating $120 million for purposes of forestry grants targeted primarily on land which is erodible, on red zone on orange zone land for want of a better expression."

He accepted there could be "some dangers in terms of the wrong tree in the wrong place at the wrong time", but said he had undertaken work with farmers to "ensure that inadvertently I don’t inundate the countryside with trees".

Mr Jones said the OIO process had been simplified for forestry. However, the Government had also restricted the amount of land that can be sold without requiring the permit.

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Whena Owen investigates the impact on rural communities of the Government’s plans to plant a billion trees. Source: Q+A