Research has revealed a more significant pace of land conversion from sheep and beef farming to forestry than previously anticipated.
A recent report by Orme & Associates indicates that land sold for this purpose in 2021 surged by 66 percent compared to the previous year, which highlights the conversion of productive land into carbon farming sites.
Beef + Lamb New Zealand's Chief Insights Officer Julian Ashby told REX host Dominic George that the land equivalent of New Zealand's 15 largest cities has been converted.
"It's now totalled about 200,000 hectares over the last five years," he said.
"If you converted all 15 of our top 15 largest cities into pine trees that's how much has gone now."
Commissioned by B+LNZ two years ago, the Orme & Associates report initially identified 52,000 hectares purchased for forestry in 2021.
Though 2022 saw a decline in conversions, around 36,000 hectares, McIvor noted that pending applications with the Overseas Investment Office could increase this number.
Over five years, over 200,000 hectares of sheep and beef farms have been acquired, raising concerns in these sectors and rural communities.
Beef & Lamb NZ CEO Sam McIvor emphasized the need for balance in afforestation. While acknowledging the potential for job creation and exports in forestry, he contrasted this with carbon farming, which lacks these benefits.
“New Zealand is one of the only countries in the world that allows fossil fuel emitters to offset 100 percent of their emissions.
“The Government is currently consulting on changes to the Emissions Trading Scheme, and it needs to act.
He stressed the urgency of addressing these issues in the ongoing Emissions Trading Scheme consultation and urged government action as New Zealand allows fossil fuel emitters to fully offset emissions
“Production forestry, in combination with carbon forestry, can often be integrated into sheep and beef farms without loss of food production.
“We also recognise the unique circumstances of some Māori landowners who can never sell their land. This is a legitimate instance where carbon credits from offsetting should be available.”
Livestock numbers have already been impacted, with a 2022 Ag Census showing a drop of 400,000 sheep in the national flock due to conversions. The Ministry for Primary Industries' Afforestation and Deforestation report supported these findings.
Despite a decrease in whole farm sales, 64,000 hectares of new forestry were planted in 2022, with a projected 88,000 hectares in 2023, illustrating the rapid pace of land conversions.
Find out more information and read the full report here.
Listen to the full chat between Beef & Lamb NZ's Chief Insights Officer Julian Ashby and Dominic George above.