Wairoa farmland sold for forestry angers 50 Shades of Green as Shane Jones extends olive branch

Shane Jones is extending an olive branch to the pro-farming community after the Government approved more farmland to be sold for forestry, saying he wants to hear their concerns. 

The Overseas Investment Office (OIO) - a Government agency - has approved the sale of 1065 hectares of land in Wairoa from Craigmore (Te Puna) Limited, a company that manages various farm and forest investments in New Zealand.

The land being acquired is currently run as a sheep and beef cattle farm, with small plantings of radiata pine and manuka. The OIO approved the sale of land on the understanding it's erosion-prone and better suited to forestry.

The land has been purchased by Drylandcarbon, a New Zealand-based carbon farming afforestation partnership between Air New Zealand, Contact Energy, Genesis Energy and Z Energy. 

Pro-farming group 50 Shades of Green has been an outspoken critic of the Government's push for tree planting as part of the One Billion Trees programme. The group says too much farmland is being converted. 

Spokesperson Gwyn Jones told Newshub the latest sale of land "beggars belief".

Jones, the Forestry Minister, said he will be holding a community meeting in February next year - the location not yet determined - to hear the concerns of the farming community and allow the forestry community to have their say, too.

It's an attempt by Jones to build a bridge with the farming community after a stand-off between the minister and 50 Shades of Green protesters at Parliament last month. 

Jones was booed by the marchers and later described them as "rednecks"

"They're a hearty crowd and they realise that some of the words that come from the political God of Wind, otherwise known as me, they'll disappear like a political tempest and good weather will come again."

Forestry Minister Shane Jones.
Forestry Minister Shane Jones. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

Jones, a New Zealand First MP, says the land conversion is evidence of how the Government's carbon offsetting scheme is working.

"The land owners will plant... then sell the carbon credits to Air New Zealand who are major emitters; and Genesis Energy, who are major importers of coal," he told Newshub.

"It's to offset their negative emissions... they will harvest the credits associated with this new forest and on-sell them."

Jones said he's met with Wairoa Mayor Craig Little who is also concerned about changing land use patterns. Jones acknowledges Little's fear that far too much productive land is going into trees.

"We will isolate what parts of the system need to be moderated or tweaked so that I don't have to put up for the entirety of the election year with stories about how forestry is undermining rural New Zealand.

"I wanted to front foot it - if people have a different view, then I welcome that... but I'm the Forestry Minister and I've got a great deal of confidence in the industry."

The 50 Shades of Green spokesperson said they would "of course" attend the community event.

50 Shades of Green protesters outside Parliament.
50 Shades of Green protesters outside Parliament. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

Craigmore's sale of its land required approval from the OIO because foreign investors were involved, Jones said. 

A Craigmore spokesperson said they would not have sold the property to anyone "planning on planting exotic forests over the entire property".

Craigmore will retain the 80 hectares of manuka plantation and will allow 271 hectares of the land to regenerate into indigenous vegetation and forest cover. 

The latest approval of farmland being sold for forestry follows criticism in October over the Government's decision to pre-approve the sale of land to a Japanese forestry company without going through the OIO.   

"I realise it might confirm the worst suspicions of the 50 Shades of Green group," Jones said of the OIO's latest decision.

"However, the reality is that a lot of the land in Wairoa is marginal land and probably over time it does need to revert back to forestry."

"I've had my rear end booted well and truly by the farming community," he added.

Jones said permanent pine plantations are "very useful for establishing a carbon sink that enables us to rely on forestry more as a way of offsetting our negative carbon emissions".

He said he's aware the commercial forestry sector is dominated by foreigners, saying he's "become very disappointed that these large forestry interests are not giving a priority to New Zealand's saw millers and processors".

"It's making my job quite difficult... As more of the country goes into forestry, I need to see more of the raw logs and material made available for rural businesses."

Craigmore has been contacted for comment.