Forest planting scheme hints at industry potential

12 May 2015

Forest owners welcome the reboot of the popular Afforestation Grant Scheme (AGS) announced yesterday by associate primary industries minister Jo Goodhew.

"This is squarely aimed at pastoral farmers on steep erosion-prone land where the economics of production forestry might be marginal. It is an endorsement of the environmental attributes of forestry and will doubtless make a useful contribution to erosion prevention and the country's carbon ledger," says Forest Owners Association technical manager Glen Mackie.

"Under the scheme up to 2500 hectares of new forest will be planted a year. If this is offset against current annual deforestation – based on industry estimates of around 10,000 hectares a year – the annual decline in planted forest area will fall to 7500 ha a year."

Mr Mackie says there are safety and environmental challenges involved in harvesting of forests on steep erosion-prone terrain.

"So we also welcome the government's role in helping to fund research into steep country harvesting, as well as in trialling alternative species that may perform better than radiata pine in terms of maintaining the stability of hillsides in the three or four years following harvest."

Mr Mackie says net afforestation was the norm in New Zealand for many decades, peaking in the 1990s. Since then new planting has fallen to low levels and in some years, large areas of existing forest have been converted to dairying and other land uses.

"In some cases, this is because new technology and irrigation have made dairying the most valuable use for this land. In other cases, especially on steep hill country, plantation forests are more profitable than pastoral farming for the country and the land owner, yet land owners are not planting.

"In large part this is due to land owner fears about government and local government policy changes during the growth cycle of a forest. Because these tend to disadvantage forest owners relative to other land users, investors factor in a higher level of risk into their decision-making.

"Commercial forestry has the potential to make a very much bigger contribution to the economy and the environment. We therefore urge the government to take a more holistic and long-term approach to its forestry-related policies so that land owners and investors have the confidence to invest for the long-term."

For more information, please ring Glen Mackie, Tel 0274 450 116