A group of New Zealand farmers is aiming to raise NZ$45m (£25m) to purchase a large North Island farm, or station, from being purchased by overseas investors to prevent it from potentially being turned into a carbon forest.

The 5000ha Mangaohane Station is a livestock farm producing 26,000 lambs annually. Mike Barnham, leader of Forever Farming NZ, hoped his group could raise enough money by selling syndicate shares for $250,000 (£140k). One person had already pledged $500,000 (£280k).

Mr Barham said: “We’ve seen a sharp rise in the number of grazing properties being sold and planted for carbon credits. Its time to take a stand against it. It’s ironic that foreign investors cannot buy a beef and sheep farm, but could buy a beef and sheep farm and change it to forestry.”

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The Mangaohane Station is owned by a family that previously sold Huiarua Station to overseas investors to be converted into forestry. According to Land Information New Zealand, almost 12,000ha of productive beef and sheep grazing land had been approved for sale to overseas investors in the past four months.

Most of this landmass is expected to be converted into permanent forestry, including one sale to a company that specialises in selling carbon credits to oil and gas companies. During the past three years, afforestation sales have amounted to more than 40,000ha annually and some 175,000ha had been sold for afforestation since 2017, resulting in an estimated decline of 1m units of beef and sheep, according to a recent report by Orme Associates.

The report found export markets influenced the beef and sheep sector with 90% of production being exported. Based on 2021 export prices, a 12,000ha loss to afforestation resulted in $245m (£137m) annual export losses.

New Zealand is the only country to allow 100% offsetting of fossil fuel emissions within the emissions trading scheme. The report stated the EU allows 10% forestry offsetting, with California allowing 8%. Farmers and businesses want the Overseas Investment Act to limit overseas investment in forestry to prevent companies taking advantage of New Zealand’s regulatory loopholes.

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Tui BidCo, owned by investors from Australia, Canada and Japan, was granted permission to purchase 2600ha of land for $1.9bn (£1.06bn) from owners in China. Overseas Investment Office figures reveal 36,742ha of land on 40 New Zealand farms had been approved for sale to overseas investors since the introduction of the 2018 'special forestry test.'

In August, the parent company of Swedish retail company, Ikea, one of the world’s most environmentally and ethically friendly companies, acquired 5000ha of New Zealand farm land for forestry plantation. The project is set to be manages by Ingka Investments, the investment arm of Ingka Group and Ikea.

The property, Wisp Hill Station, is set to have 3m seedlings planted over the next five years on 3000ha, with the remaining 2000ha regenerating to native bush. The first timber harvest is expected to take place in 2052.