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Carlsberg comes to Hawke’s Bay

An Austrian aristocrat who recently bought a sheep and beef farm in northern Hawke’s Bay plans to plant the property in radiata pine and name it Carlsberg Forest. Source: Stuff NZ

Once the property is planted in radiata pine as planned, that should make it unique as there are no other forests which carry the name Carlsberg anywhere else in the world.

Countess Veronika Leeb-Goess-Saurau, bought the 381.9 hectare farm at Tutira for NZ$2.2 million.

After the decision was made public in February to let the countess buy the forest, the Overseas Investment Office was asked for background information on her but the request was denied.

However, after a complaint to the Ombudsman, the OIO has supplied a censored version of its report granting consent for the sale.

A lot of key details have been expunged from the report, including how much land she and her family own in Austria, and how many jobs she intends to create at Carlsberg Forest.

It said the property had been advertised over a 4-month period in 2016, but would not say how many prospective New Zealand owners viewed it.

The majority were sheep and beef farmers, none of whom were interested in converting it to forestry. One was a bee keeper.

Using Beef+Lamb NZ statistics, the OIO estimated the farm would employ 1.7 full time equivalent (FTE) jobs if it remained a sheep and beef farm.

In her application, the countess said following a visit to New Zealand in 1999-2000, she decided the country was where she wanted to set up a plantation forest.

“New Zealand is acknowledged as being able to grow trees faster than other places. In Austria, trees particular to the country grow to maturity in 65 to 80 years, whereas in comparison those trees particular to New Zealand can have two to three rotations over the same time span.”

Returns on New Zealand forestry investment were high compared with other countries, while there were also opportunities to make income early in a forest’s life through claiming credits from the Emissions Trading Scheme.

The OIO said it was satisfied the forest would provide environmental benefits, to soil conservation and improved water quality, “and more so in light of New Zealand’s current levels of emissions and deforestation”.

It compared the amount of carbon the forest would soak up compared with emissions from stock if it remained a sheep and beef farm. However, it refused to release the figures for comparison.

The OIO listed a number of conditions of consent, but withheld details of how much it expected the countess to spend on new plantings, and within what time frame.

The countess’s family owns valuable forest estates and castles in Austria, and the world’s largest producer of cardboard cartons made from recycled material, Mayr-Melnhof Karton AG.

Her husband, Dr Alexander Leeb, is a former banker who serves on the boards of several corporations and foundations in Austria and Switzerland, including Mayr-Melnhof Karton AG.

The Forest Owners Association estimates that upwards of 1 million ha of New Zealand’s plantation forests are either directly owned or managed by foreign interests. About a third are owned by American companies, and 13% by Asian companies.

New Zealand companies are often involved in joint ventures with overseas companies.