Let’s plant a million trees a year

By: Patrick Cox, Photography by: Patrick Cox

In his latest column, Patrick Cox critiques the politics behind the words ‘let’s plant a million trees a year for the next ten years’

The dust has settled since the election deal was done and there are those who have rolled their eyes and made the comment that New Zealand could be held to ransom by a minority who would determine who would govern New Zealand.


It makes a mockery of those who vote with good intent of their beliefs. There has to be a better way with these coalition negotiations, and it should go back to the people.

Once the deals have been sorted between the major parties and those who hold the balance of power, the deals should then be put back to the people to decide what would be best, and vote accordingly. Surely that way the majority of the people would have a government in power they were happy with. The current system certainly does not allow this.

We all have an opinion on code hoppers in sport, but what about code-hopping politicians Winston Peters entered parliament as a National MP in 1978 and was in opposition to Labour in 1987 when it bought about the demise of state-owned enterprise, The New Zealand Forest Service (NZFS).

Established in 1919 as the New Zealand State Forest, they changed the name to NZFS in 1947. NZFS was a profitable state-owned enterprise and has been sorely missed by the logging industry ever since. NZFS had their own logging crews and training systems, a person could leave school and start with the forest service and basically do an apprenticeship in forestry over five years. Highly trained loggers like this were well sought-after by independent logging crews.

Now here we are in 2017, and the very party that destroyed the NZFS is now reinstating it. The same party destroyed the railways, and now that Winston has got the bit between the teeth, it looks like the steel wheels will hit the tracks again, do we not learn by our mistakes? Apparently not!

Cart before the horse

Personally, I think it’s a great idea. At the time I was sorry to see the NZFS wiped out and believe this caused a number of issues faced by the industry today. Here’s hoping they get it right. To brazenly say ‘let’s plant a million trees a year for the next ten years’, is putting the cart before the horse. We planted millions of trees in the ‘90s and are now without a labour force to harvest them.

We need infrastructure first, before the first tree goes into the ground the new NZFS needs to look at the current roading in the areas they are planning to plant in, and start upgrading it now. It will take 25 years just to get the roads in place, look at the topography of the land and ascertain forestry roading costs against return on investment.

Setting up the infrastructure on the East Coast above Opotiki – where they planted trees in the ‘80s and ‘90s on country where even the goats do not want to go – has been horrendous. The return on investment on the first crop rotation to the owners will be near zero. The cost of compliance and safety issues on these steep blocks certainly was not considered when planted.

The new SOE needs to take all these issues into consideration and get their ducks in a row from day one. Silviculture crews will be in big demand, and nurseries will be under the pump.

In Northland at present there is a huge push on avocado orchards with many millions of dollars being spent on the development of land. There is an avocado nursery in Whangarei and if you want avocado trees you will have to wait till 2020. If you are lucky and there is a little over production, you might pick up a spare couple of thousand at the end of the year. My guess is over the last few years the demand for pine trees has dropped so all the nurseries will need to gear up.

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Kids that are just starting school today will be the work force in 25 years. The school curriculum needs to be adjusted now to accommodate forestry related topics, there is so much to do to improve the image of an industry that has been thrashed to death by bad publicity. Shane Jones stated that, "Trees will also be planted on Maori-owned land and there will be a big emphasis on getting Maori into jobs."

Should this not read, "We want jobs for all New Zealanders, why would you vote for Winston and his mates if they are only creating jobs for one race of people and have been allocated one billion dollars to spend in the regions?" This is certainly a race based policy with all taxpayers money being spent on it.

One other point raised in conversation with a farmer is the question, is this a big smokescreen so the government will look good to the world with its planting of forest to gain carbon credits? Our surplus carbon credits can be sold to countries that do not have enough. Funds should also be allocated toward the fight against wilding pines, the radiata species is also a very invasive pest if left uncontrolled, but that in turn creates work for some.

The 25-year plan to plant millions of trees and spend billions of dollars has to be rock solid and well-constructed, otherwise in three years’ time those who were fed up with the kingmaker of the 2017 elections will throw him out on his ear and all his plans with him.

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