Farm-foresters mostly not paying for road impacts

EDITORIAL

Many readers will have been surprised to learn from a columnist last week that owners of forests which are part of larger pastoral farms do not pay a forestry-aligned roading differential, in their rates, for that part of their land.

The council rating policy in question is called “highest and best use”, and the example given was council-owned Tauwhareparae Farms. While its land in exotic forest is 1550 hectares (14 percent of the total farm area), not 4000ha as stated last week, this is a large amount of forest where the owner has not been required to contribute anything like an adequate amount to help prepare, then maintain, roads for getting its crop to market.

This policy seems to make little sense in the context of a road network under immense strain from the increasing forestry harvest, inadequate planning to prepare for it, large numbers of farm-forests about to be harvested, and questions over whether the existing forestry differential of 5x what “residential” pays is enough. (This targeted rate is based on the capital value of a property; pastoral farmers pay a 1.5x differential).

Those who say forestry’s impact on roads is being subsidised by ratepayers and taxpayers at large have a much clearer example here where this is the case. It appears to be a free roading ticket for farm-foresters — some of whom will be fervently hoping their rural roads are upgraded in time for harvest.

One has to wonder if the genesis of this policy is the formerly disproportionately strong rural voice around the council table . . . though it is probably about simplifying rating for mixed-use land.

Other factors to consider are that each rating unit is different based on the age, and therefore value, of the forest and condition of the land; and that the valuation of average pastoral land has risen 40 percent compared to an average 15 percent for forestry land.

It would be interesting to know how many hill-country farmers have forested an area that keeps them just within requirements for a 1.5x road rating differential. There is certainly a large incentive to have a close eye on that boundary.

Many readers will have been surprised to learn from a columnist last week that owners of forests which are part of larger pastoral farms do not pay a forestry-aligned roading differential, in their rates, for that part of their land.

The council rating policy in question is called “highest and best use”, and the example given was council-owned Tauwhareparae Farms. While its land in exotic forest is 1550 hectares (14 percent of the total farm area), not 4000ha as stated last week, this is a large amount of forest where the owner has not been required to contribute anything like an adequate amount to help prepare, then maintain, roads for getting its crop to market.

This policy seems to make little sense in the context of a road network under immense strain from the increasing forestry harvest, inadequate planning to prepare for it, large numbers of farm-forests about to be harvested, and questions over whether the existing forestry differential of 5x what “residential” pays is enough. (This targeted rate is based on the capital value of a property; pastoral farmers pay a 1.5x differential).

Those who say forestry’s impact on roads is being subsidised by ratepayers and taxpayers at large have a much clearer example here where this is the case. It appears to be a free roading ticket for farm-foresters — some of whom will be fervently hoping their rural roads are upgraded in time for harvest.

One has to wonder if the genesis of this policy is the formerly disproportionately strong rural voice around the council table . . . though it is probably about simplifying rating for mixed-use land.

Other factors to consider are that each rating unit is different based on the age, and therefore value, of the forest and condition of the land; and that the valuation of average pastoral land has risen 40 percent compared to an average 15 percent for forestry land.

It would be interesting to know how many hill-country farmers have forested an area that keeps them just within requirements for a 1.5x road rating differential. There is certainly a large incentive to have a close eye on that boundary.

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