I've been a bit bemused to read media coverage lately about some parties complaining that the Billion Tree Funding Programme (1BT) and the NZ Government's changes to the Emissions Trading Scheme (NZETS) are leading to an exodus from hill country farming. Apparently, large numbers of farms are being sold to overseas interests so that forests can be planted on them. As a result, it is alleged, more NZ land is going into overseas investors' hands, and the local rural community and rural schools are being emptied of jobs and children.
So, I've done a quick fact check and find:
- 70% of NZ's commercial forests are already overseas owned - so sorry folks, the horse has already bolted; and,
- Yes, a few farms have been sold to overseas interests for forestry development, but the trend is no more than usual (so far). The sales have had to go through the Overseas Investment Office (OIO) approval process, so if there is concern about how many farms are sold to overseas buyers, the place to change the policy settings is at the OIO; and,
- Growing trees on marginal hill country and other "badlands" for wood and carbon credits still provide better economic and environmental returns than any other option.
As far as I know, NZ is the only country with a Billion Tree Blessing where land owners are given (that's given, not lent) money by the Government to plant trees that can become part of an ETS, and earn carbon credits (NZU) for their owners. Creating two revenue streams where before there may have been none, or not much, or a loss.
So what does the Billion Tree Blessing give to rural land owners and the rest of NZ?
- A gift to plant trees on land that's not producing anything except rates and fencing bills;
- Another gift in carbon credits that can be easily sold in the carbon market (with the surrender requirement gone), or kept as a valuable futures stock;
- '1BT' and 'Join ETS' application preparation fees at least partly covered by the grant, with both being tax deductible; and,
- More NZ-owned marginal country turned into forestry, increasing the percentage of commercial forests owned by New Zealanders, and starting to bring back into NZ ownership the revenue, jobs, erosion control, and climate change benefits of beautiful trees.
The Billion Tree Blessing is a gift - why wouldn't you take it?
*Declaration of interest - yes, my family earns part of its' living from trees - we love 'em.