We visited a farm 10 years ago and listened in bemusement as the owner explained his plan to plant trees.
The land had been cleared of scrub and planted as pasture when the then-government was encouraging such development in the 1970s.
But in spite of the fertiliser poured onto it, sheep didn’t thrive on the pastures.
The farmer looked at other options and settled on trees.
We went back again last week and were no longer bemused. In the decade since we’d first visited, many hectares had been converted from pasture to forestry and trees were thriving where sheep wouldn’t.
There will be other properties where forestry with, or instead of, farming is a good option.
But the government’s pledge to plant a billion trees in 10 years seemed at best optimistic if not unrealistic.
It’s not surprising that the number has already halved:
Regional Development Minister Shane Jones is already backtracking from his promise to plant a billion trees in 10 years, National Party Economic Development Spokesperson Simon Bridges says.
“From his statements earlier today it appears he’s realised that the pledge of a billion new trees is entirely unachievable and now he’s attempting to back away from it,” Mr Bridges says.
“His problem is that the target is recorded unambiguously in both the Labour-New Zealand First coalition agreement and the Speech from the Throne on the new Government’s programme.
“Now he wants to count around 50 million trees that are already planted every year, about half of the billion he’s committed to over a decade. These are happening regardless of his slush fund or the kind of Government in power.
“So his first action is to cut his target in half. Not exactly impressive.
“He needs to immediately stop using his slogan of 1 billion trees to be planted because it’s completely untrue. He should also stand up in Parliament and correct the Speech.
“This backsliding is becoming a pattern for this Government. They want to count trees that are already being planted in their tree target and houses already being built in their housing target. It’s all very underwhelming.
“The reality for Mr Jones is that even planting 500 million trees over a decade, if that’s what the new marketing catch-cry will be, is unlikely.
“After all, the new Government has also committed to slashing the necessary immigration needed for our workforce and the nurseries will find it difficult to gear up for both private and public sector forestry expansion
“All he will do is displace existing private sector activity. The forestry industry should tell him he’s dreaming.”
Doubling current planting, whether it’s done by the private or public sector will require a lot of land, a lot of labour and a lot of seedlings.
The pledge will deliver a new bureaucracy but it will need a lot more than that to plant even half a billion more trees.
And the experience of the farm forester we visited shows that landowners are best to make decisions on what’s best for their land without political encouragement.