Changing tunes on Carbon
King Country News, Waitomo by Paul Charman 08 September 2022
ONE day pine trees may become far more valuable to New Zealand than anyone anticipated - but that belief comes with words of caution.
That's the view of outgoing Rangitikei National MP Ian McKelvie, who has represented the electorate which takes in Taumarunui, National Park and Ohakune since 2011.
Ian, who plans to retire at next year's general election, also said that in his view if harvestable forestry companies could afford to purchase farmland they should be allowed to do so.
However, he opposes planting pine for carbon farming, which he has seen take place through much of the King Country, unless it is a genuine effort to convert the land to native forest long term.
Ian now regrets using the line "you can't eat trees", in the maiden speech he made when entering Parliament.
NOT MUCH DIFFERENT TO A COW
"I suspect that not long after I leave Parliament, we will be doing just that. I think if you look at a pine tree it is not much different to a dairy cow-you extract milk from a dairy cow because that has the value and I think we are going to see the same with pine trees," he said.
"I think we are going to say, and I have reasonably good reasons to say this, that the extracts from the pine tree will be more valuable than the wood." Ian said resins from pine trees would be used to make a range of useful products that used to be made of plastic, "including what we now know as plastic bags". Other extracts could be used in such products as health supplements, food ingredients and pharmaceuticals.
Meanwhile, the wood itself could be chipped and used as a renewable energy source for industry. Ian noted that Fonterra had converted coal-fired boilers to run on wood biomass.
Meanwhile, biochar residue left over after burning wood fuel was being returned to the land to enhance soil fertility and even had a role in sequestering carbon.
Ian supported traditional forestry plantations which were pruned, maintained, and eventually logged.
But he lamented the fact that good pastureland in the King Country and elsewhere had been lost to carbon plantations which would never be harvested.
However, he acknowledged that within the last two years so many King Country farmers had seen the benefits of sequestering carbon, and being paid to do so, within their own properties.
"It is a difficult situation for the Government to manage because it has gone down a path that it has found difficult to extricate itself from," Ian said.
"In curbing the excesses of converting land to carbon, the Government has passed some useful legislation, such as limits on foreign investors becoming involved in carbon farming here." However, it looked like Labour's intention to discourage the planting of new permanent exotic forests by excluding them from the ETS had been thwarted. This followed media reports that the proposal had incensed iwi foresters, who said it could cost the Maori economy billions of dollars. And despite consultation still going on, the climate change and forestry ministers had written to submitters telling them the change was now unlikely.
"Another thing that complicated things last week was the Climate Commission coming out and telling the Government that they should be putting a cap on carbon emissions in the region of about $170 dollars a tonne, which is extraordinary because that really sets the benchmark for the price.
"There are some odd things going on that are causing distortions. I was reasonably comfortable a week ago that we were making progress because there were some changes to the Overseas Investment Office that would have tidied it up to a point, and I think we were getting much better co-operation from international companies in this field.
"They are starting to realise that there is a lot of land in New Zealand that shouldn't be going into pine trees long term.
"So effectively, in their applications they're now subdividing the reasonable farmland out and either selling it or finding some other uses for it. Some of those changes have been positive.
"But if it (the carbon price) gets to around $170 then you might as well plant the whole of New Zealand into pine trees.
"That's the real concern so we have a lot more work to do on this.
"On the other hand, changing carbon tune we (National) are sort of comfortable with the planting of pine trees-provided they harvest them. Which I think everybody agrees with.
"If you look at the King Country there is the potential to run a rail hub out of Taumarunui (to service pine forests in the area), which should be and could be happening but hasn't because of KiwiRail. Then production forestry in that area becomes a lot more profitable, and for want of a better word, a viable business. If that's happening, then that's not quite so bad.
"But carbon forestry is a challenge for all of us and I don't think it should be happening. If it must happen, we would prefer it is only used as a nursery crop (for natives), to graduate country that can never be harvested, eventually creating a more permanent type of (native) forestry operation.
"This carbon stuff will never be pruned, never harvested and we're definitely not in favour of that and I'm sure the forestry industry isn't either.
"There is land in our region and certainly on the East Coast that should never be planted in pine. You can't have a permanent pine regime there because it will all fall down one day.
The problem is that when they get to 25-30 years old pines are very heavy. When you get a snowstorm or a rainstorm then those trees can double their weight and they'll just slide down the hill.
"So, it's essential to use exotics of one form or another as a nurse crop for natives to grow eventually underneath. Now that's an expensive regime but never-the-less if you are going to carbon farm in New Zealand then that should be the price you pay for the privilege of doing so.
"In some places the seeds will be in the ground but not everywhere and you certainly need the exotics planted at a rate that allows light to get to it. It's a complex business but we should be making sure that our future land use requirements are catered for before we go rushing off down a path of locking stuff up forever.
"But if that forestry can be harvested economically and successfully then I think it has an exciting future for New Zealand. I know I am talking about stuff that's relatively unknown, but it's the way Fonterra and other companies are going.
"Once we turn wood into timber products that carbon is locked up in them and that could be for hundreds of years in some cases. So, I am not excessively concerned about (harvestable) pine plantations as I can see technology enabling far more used of pine in future.
"And in my view if the forestry sector can afford to buy the land, they deserve to be able to use it. But the issue with carbon-only farming is different. I am very concerned about where and how this is located. The issue of banning exotics for use only as a permanent carbon sink needs urgent attention."
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