14 Nov 2018

Trees ordered before Ngāti Hine deal struck in Crown-iwi venture - nursery

2:02 pm on 14 November 2018

The nursery that grew the seedlings for a Crown-iwi joint venture says the Ministry of Primary Industries ordered the trees before it had a deal with Ngāti Hine.

Winston Peters and Shane Jones at the Ngāti Hine joint venture launch on May 31.

Winston Peters and Shane Jones at the Ngāti Hine joint venture launch on May 31. Photo: RNZ / Lois Williams

A deal was done between the Crown and the Ngāti Hine Forestry Trust in the Far North earlier this year and 1.2 million seedlings were bought to be planted.

The deal with Ngāti Hine was signed on 31 May.

Yesterday, Ngāti Hine took responsibility after about 400,000 of the seedlings went waste because the land was too wild to plant on.

Kevin Strawbridge, owner of Northland Forest Nursery which had to mulch the 400,000 seedlings, said MPI scrambled to guess how many trees it would need without knowing how much land would be available after the One Billion Trees Programme was announced.

He said the government confirmed to him in February that they wanted about 1.1 million trees.

Mr Strawbridge said the ministry had to buy up every spare pine seedling in the country or risk having land but not enough trees - which would have been worse.

"They believed they had 'x' number of hectares available to them and my understanding is that they couldn't actually get enough seedlings or the land that they reasonably felt they could get hold of. Of course, that didn't come to fruition but at that time they reasonably thought they wouldn't have enough seedlings," he said.

"We battled on as long as we could, 'til the end of planting season as area became available after logging in the Ngāti Hine block, the contractor planted right up behind the harvesting crews. So it was really literally a matter of planting everything that could be reasonably planted and with a high expectation it would survive well. And what was left over was left over."

However, he did not assign blame in the botch up to any side and said at the time the ministry had made a reasonable guess.

Forestry Minister Shane Jones said as a result of the incident, the cost to the taxpayer was about $160,000.

Mr Jones said only 200,000 seedlings were successfully planted because the land wasn't up to scratch.

About 600,000 of the seedlings were re-distributed to other forestry ventures - many of which are with iwi and have existed for many years.

Mr Jones said he had been clear with officials involved that it was not good enough.

In comparison, Mr Strawbridge said other companies had been hit bigger losses because agreements that they were going to enter into failed but they'd already contracted him to grow their seedlings.

In one case, he had to mulch 900,000 seedlings for one of the contractors.

"It's a massive blow to the company that entered into the contract."

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