Greenpeace reforests Landcorp dairy farm

Landcorp putting New Zealand's 'Clean Green Image' at risk

Feature story - April 8, 2008
Everyone knows agriculture is the backbone of New Zealand's economy, however, our largest farmer - the Government-owned Landcorp - is putting the future of our most important industry and our clean green reputation at risk through large-scale land conversion and destructive industrial farming practices.

Taupo, central North Island, New Zealand. Landcorp, a New Zealand Government owned company, currently converting Tahorakuri Forest into large-scale intensive dairy farms.

Greenpeace volunteer Tanith Carrington in the process of planting a tree as part of the Greenpeace reforestation activity on Landcorp land, near Taupo. Over 30 Greenpeace volunteers replanted over 1000 trees on land cleared for dairy farming.

Just as state-owned enterprise Solid Energy is expanding the mining and export of coal, Landcorp is overseeing the conversion of land from forestry to intensive dairy - a practice that once again illustrates the Government's inability to reconcile its clean and green aspirations with real action on climate change.

Early this morning a team of Greenpeace activists took action and reforested an area of new dairy pasture.

Large-scale deforestation and intensification of dairy farming is being pursued with the bottom line, not New Zealand's larger social, economic and environmental welfare in mind.

It is risking economic damage by destroying New Zealand's clean, green image, and while deforestation is a national issue, it is mostly occurring in just two regions: the Central North Island and Canterbury.

In the Tahorakuri Forest between Taupo and Rotorua for example, more than 25,000 hectares of pine plantations - of which a quarter is the Tahorakuri Forest - have been earmarked for conversion into 20 dairy units, with a large sheep, beef and dairy heifer unit located on the steeper ground.

More cows, less trees, no chance

This conversion marks a 'double whammy' on the climate, as it destroys forests and replaces them with dairy farming which is one of the most greenhouse gas intensive forms of land use.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) up to 455,000 hectares of forestry land is at risk of being deforested and converted into pastoral use - the majority for dairying.  This is equivalent to 910,000 rugby fields or over seven times the size of Lake Taupo.

If that isn't sobering enough, held against the national forestry plantation estate's 1.8 million hectares the area at risk is over 25 per cent of the nation's total plantation.

New Zealand's agricultural sector is already responsible for nearly half of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions. If this large-scale deforestation, intensification and expansion of the dairy sector goes ahead, there will be an estimate 21 per cent more dairy cows by 2010, jumping from 5.28 million now to 6.4 million. With significantly less trees, more chemicals being used on pasture and far more cows, New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions will skyrocket.

Countering conversion

To draw attention to the issues we face through reckless conversion of forest to intensive dairy, Greenpeace has re-forested a section of recently cleared and pasteurised land in Tahorakuri.

In the chill morning air, 30 volunteers planted a mixed array of seedlings and saplings, all of which are suited to the region. The volunteers planted a plantation forest with some exotic forestry trees - Lusitanica, and six varieties of Eucalyptus (including Regnanf, Globoidea and Fastigata); We have also planted a block of native reserve, which includes eco-sourced Ninginingi, Pokaka, Kanuka, Kowhai and Hebe, as well as Totara.

Our re-foresting highlights the Government's hypocrisy in all of its talk about taking action on climate change. By exempting agriculture from taking any responsibility to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for years to come, and doing nothing to prevent the rapid expansion and industrialisation of the dairy industry - just like it's inaction on coal industry expansion - it is undermining all of the good work it is doing in other areas.

Savings made by the Labour-led Government and the Green Party's proposed ten year ban on new fossil fuel electricity generation, and the 90 per cent renewable energy target for 2025 will be mute if such unmitigated expansion of intensive dairy is allowed to continue.

Even Labour's Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) - under which polluting sectors must, over time, cover the cost of their greenhouse gas emissions - will do little good as agriculture, the largest source of domestic emissions, is exempt from the scheme and unaccountable for its emissions until 2013.

Even when the sector eventually is brought into the ETS, the government will subsidise the sector by covering the cost of up to 90 per cent of its greenhouse gas emissions until 2025.

This leads to short-sighted climate damaging investment decisions such as cutting down forests to convert the land to dairy farms - a practice that will undoubtedly hurt our clean green brand image while severely undermining the effectiveness of a scheme designed to encourage a rapid transition to cleaner technologies and practices.

Agriculture generates the bulk of our export earnings and has a reputation not only for quality products, but also for being clean and green yet all of this is being undermined by the current dairy expansion and intensification..

Smarter farming for the future

Greenpeace not anti-farming. Far from it. We want New Zealand to be farming into the future by passing on truly sustainable, healthy farms to the next generations.

This is unlikely to occur, however, if we continue down the road of recklessly deforesting, expanding, and intensifying farming at great environmental cost, simultaneously increasing the risk of economic damage by destroying New Zealand's clean and green image.

The intensification of dairy will also increase pressure on scarce water resources, increase the use of fertilisers and chemical inputs onto land and increase the level of pollution that dairying already contributes to New Zealand's fragile waterways and lakes.

What we need to do instead is halt this intensive dairy expansion until we are in a position to farm more sustainably, and more widely deploy the improved farming practices that a growing number of New Zealand farmers are already using to significant economic and environmental benefit.

Also essential for the climate and New Zealand's clean green image is that the agriculture sector is held accountable for its emissions. It must be brought in under the Government's emissions trading scheme in the next two years (as opposed to 2013 as currently stipulated).

The Government and other political parties can talk all they want about carbon neutrality and world leadership on climate change, but if the expansion of high-polluting industries such as agriculture and coal is not curbed then we cannot argue we're doing our bit in this global challenge.

Greenpeace is calling on the Government and all political parties to commit to an emissions reduction target of 30 per cent by 2020.

For more about this issue please refer to the Frequently Asked Quesionts document:

Frequently Asked Questions 

1. MAF, Area of forest 'at risk' from deforestation, August 2006, http://www.maf.govt.nz/climatechange/forestry/ets/area-at-risk/page-04.htm 2. For a more thorough examination of the flaws in the emissions trading scheme, see www.greenpeace.org.nz/ets-report

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