5000-hectare historic station on East Coast could soon be foreign-owned carbon farm

A 5000-hectare historic station on the East Coast may soon be turned into a foreign-owned carbon farm.

Newshub understands the sale is all but final - it's pending approval from the Overseas Investment Office. 

Locals are devastated and say it's the beginning of the end for not only farming in the region but the region itself.  

The annual on-farm sale day at Puketoro Station brings the East Coast rural community together - but the one thing on everyone's mind is the future of days like that and the sale of a nearby station is why.

Huiarua is one of very few left on the coast - and one of the best.

Locals believe it will be covered in pine but they won't even be harvested. 

"Buying good land and planting it in trees, with the idea of just shutting the gate, is ridiculous," says local farmer Dan Griffin.

Under the Emissions Trading Scheme, set up to help New Zealand meet its carbon-neutral goal by 2050, carbon has become a currency. The trees earn 'credits' for the carbon dioxide they soak up and those credits can be sold to a company needing to offset its emissions.

It's a lucrative business, but Gisborne Mayor Rehette Stoltz is worried it will drive out communities because it won't offer jobs. 

"Those families living there are the lifeblood of our smaller communities. Those are the families that fill up our schools, are the bus drivers, and if you take that away those smaller communities die," Stoltz says.

5000-hectare historic station on East Coast could soon be foreign-owned carbon farm
Photo credit: Newshub.

Huiarua employs at least eight people, meaning that's eight families left without work. There's also the shearing gangs, wool buyers, the meatworks in Wairoa, and even the local school.

"I'm scared for what will happen to this school because I've seen on the coast what the trees have done to this community," local Selwyn August says.

August's four daughters went through Mata School and now two of his grandkids are there. It sits on Huiarua land, so when the farm goes, the school will likely go too.

"That's the reality, and for myself as a principal, that hurts because you don't want to see families have to move away," says Mata School principal David Jane.

Like many regions, the East Coast has seen communities disappear. Some townships look more like ghost towns and many locals believe carbon farming has a lot to do with it. 

The District Council is so concerned they've met with local MPs several times. Forestry Minister Stuart Nash shares their concern.

"Taking out a 5000-hectare station for carbon forestry, that is not a good use of land. If it was true, I'd be very disappointed," he says.

It's why the Government promised to give councils more power to stop fertile land from being converted to forestry. But more than a year later, nothing has changed.

"It's not as simple as I initially imagined, and I'm the first to concede that. We're doing a lot of work in this space to get this right," Nash says.

But locals fear it's too little, too late.