Pay rates of $400 a day are not enough to attract workers to plant trees, potentially putting a brake on the New Zealand Government’s one billion trees by 2028 campaign. Forest nurseries have doubled plantings to 100 million tree seedings in response to Government incentives, but finding staff is the biggest hurdle to getting them in the ground.
Forest Management director David Janett said the bottleneck was not so much acquiring seedlings from forest nurseries, but finding people to plant the trees. “We are fully booked up for this year.” Planting rates in the North Island were reaching 60 cents a tree, which equated to pay rates of $300 to $400 a day. “And we still can’t get people.”
“The greatest impediment is finding the labour to plant the trees. We can mechanise a lot of the work, but we can’t mechanise a person on a spade,” Janett said. Tree planting was done in autumn and winter and seasonal workers from the Pacific Islands would need to be recruited.
Forest Nursery Growers Association president Kevin Haine said its member nurseries would grow 100 million tree seedlings this year, almost double the 54m trees grown two years ago. Of this, the Government was responsible for about 20m trees through its Crown forestry partnerships, such as its agreement to establish a commercial forest on Ngati Rehia iwi land in Northland.
Tree planting had already increased to 70m trees last year in response to demand for replanting of harvested forests, as the “wall of wood” from a peak planting in 1994 reached maturity. “A positive aspect is that all the logged land is being replanted in trees. This is in contrast to about five years ago when carbon credits were low and it was cheap to get out of forestry and into farming.”
Nursery growers were aware that a change of government might lead to a change in tree-planting policy, which had occurred before, so were wary of gearing up too quickly, Haine said. “The contracts signed have only been for one year. The Government hasn’t signed any long-term contracts, so it’s year-by-year.