A man whose life’s work is understanding forestry says integrating trees on farms as opposed to blanket pine conversions will allow farming to continue amongst planted areas, yields the farmer high-value timber and also offers superior environmental resilience.
Eric Appleton first trained as a forester in the UK before embarking on an epic motorcycle journey to New Zealand in 1957. Since founding Appleton’s Tree Nursery in Nelson more than fifty years ago, he now works in an advisory/educational capacity and is currently an NZFFA patron.
Speaking to FEDTalks following cyclones Hale and Gabrielle, Eric recalls what went down the last time something like this happened.
“I remember the first waves of radiata afforestation after cyclone Bola. It was a decision made based on what was being produced in the nurseries at the time,” he says.
“With hindsight, Sequoia sempervirens (coast redwoods) would have been a better match with Gisborne and the Hawke’s Bay. Their roots graft together and stay alive after logging, you could harvest them for a thousand years and they’d still be holding the hillside at the end of it.”
Integrating isn’t always a case of spacing trees among pasture, although that can be done – it depends on the land and according to Eric the best person to make those calls is the farmer.
“You as a farmer will have the best idea of the most productive parts of your farm, and what’s marginally economical.”
“You can grow certain trees that yield high-value timber while still retaining pasture if needed.”
“If you’ve got slip-prone hills but still want some pasture, you can plant poplars. Their deep roots hold the hillside plus you’re still getting grass between. I have also seen species of alder growing in this way here in Nelson, and being an alder it’s fixing Nitrogen as well.”
While costlier to plant and slower growing than pines, if high-pruned (i.e. trimmed below a certain height) Eric says the resulting timber can fetch top dollar when exported – between $3000 to $5000 per m3 for redwood. Poplar can also command a high price.
“We’re currently exporting radiata logs at $150 per m3 so there’s a big difference in the value,” he adds.
“It makes all the difference if you high-prune because you’re increasing the value of your timber.”
Moving on, dairy farmers may be aware of a call for livestock shade & shelter brewing in the animal welfare space. Eric says farmers here can knock two birds with one stone as there’s considerable potential to grow high-value timber that serves as shelter in hot weather.
“The most obvious choice for integrating trees on flat pasture is deciduous poplar clones. There’s a range of hybrids bred in New Zealand,” he says.
“You can high prune them in shelter belts or spaced in corners of pasture to produce joinery quality timber.”
Addressing the elephant in the room, Eric does concede that the carbon accumulation with these species is slower.
For example, when compared to radiata the percentage of New Zealand land area suitable for redwood is more restricted – particularly in the South Island. Averaged across areas suitable for both species however, redwood aged between 30-50 years stores significantly more carbon when planted at a certain density.
“You aren’t going to be earning carbon credits as quickly as you would with radiata, but we don’t want to see every hillside covered in pines. The risk of disease coming in from overseas is always there,” Eric says.
Looking ahead Eric would like to see a market developed for a range of trees, and for farmers concerned with succession planning he can see real advantages in diversification given such a future. However there’s an emphasis currently on native plantings, which in his experience doesn’t suit every area of New Zealand.
“Horses for courses; the right tree in the right place. But don’t try to ram native down everybody’s throats because it won’t work in some parts of the country,” he says.
Feds Board Member and ex-Gisborne Wairoa President Toby Williams says Eric’s vision aligns well.
“We’re after a mosaic of tree species and land uses. Eric’s vision is bang on with what we’ve been calling for for a long time.”
“If we truly want to do something about stopping erosion and all these things, we need to be looking at multiple species scattered throughout a farm property”.
Federated Farmers Senior Policy Advisor Jacob Haronga agrees, saying integrated forestry will better benefit New Zealand and that Feds is working hard to advocate for this.
“For the country’s future integrated farm forestry offers a better solution to combat global warming than blanket pine afforestation – particularly permanent exotic plantations,” Jacob says.
“The Government needs to adequately incentivise the establishment and regeneration of indigenous biodiversity and provide a cost-effective approach for accounting under the ETS for carbon sequestered. Under current settings while offsetting via planting trees is relatively cheaper and easier, in the long term this will have a greater cost and harmful impact on New Zealand than developing cost-effective technologies that reduce emissions.”
“This is why Federated Farmers advocates against the Government’s current high reliance on forestry offsets and a shift to greater incentives to reduce actual emissions.”