Farm forestry couple's passion

East Otago couple John and Heather Prebble have had a long-standing interest in farm forestry.

Mr and Mrs Prebble, who live on a 630ha sheep and beef farm near Dunback, now run by their son Mark, began planting trees in the late 1970s.

Initially, the incentive was to make some money out of them. When they came to their current property 28 years ago, several shelterbelts had recently been planted.

They started planting gullies and then set out to improve the look of the place and provide shelter for stock.

They have 23ha of production forestry, 2.2km of shelterbelts and a 1.5ha fodder block.

The plantings were mostly radiata, with 3ha of macrocarpa and ''little patches of odds and ends'', Mr Prebble said.

The shelter provided by the trees was invaluable, particularly at lambing time, he said.

Mr Prebble has been heavily involved with the New Zealand Farm Forestry Association, serving on the national executive from 1990 to 2000, which included a two-year term as president from 1998 to 2000.

He has been involved with the North Otago branch of the NZFFA since its inception in 1981.

That included serving as secretary for 12 years, while Mrs Prebble was treasurer for about eight.

At its peak, membership was just under 100, in the late 1980s-early 1990s, but it was now down to about 30.

The increase in dairying had been a major factor in reducing numbers. A lot of good planted farms had been converted to dairy, he said.

Mrs Prebble said meeting people had been a highlight of the couple's involvement.

The Prebble family's property, Mt Blue, will be visited during a farm forestry workshop on Tuesday, April 29.

A series of free Trees on Farms workshops are being held throughout the South Island, and in Northland, as part of a Ministry for Primary Industries Sustainable Farming Fund initiative encouraging more tree-planting on farms as part of wise land-use strategies.

The workshops were the second tranche of a successful series held in the North Island in 2012 and 2013, and were being run through local branches of the NZFFA.

The aim was to help farmers and landowners identify how planting the right trees in the right place could boost farm profitability and deliver multiple benefits, such as income from timber and carbon, soil conservation, shade, shelter and fodder for livestock, better water quality, and habitat for native wildlife.

The workshops drew on the expertise and practical experience of knowledgeable local farm foresters, farm advisers, regional councils, and a range of other professionals. Each workshop was customised to reflect local opportunities and land-use challenges.

The day-long workshops featured a combination of presentations, short video clips of successful local farm foresters, and then a field visit to a showcase local farm forestry property.

The North Otago branch's workshop will start at the Bowling Club pavilion at Dunback at 9.45am.

Topics included the role of trees in land and environment plans, nutrient management and where trees fit in, opportunities for natives on sheep and beef farms, updates on environmental certification for farm foresters and the Emissions Trading Scheme, and whether production of edible fungi was an economic option.

In the afternoon, participants will travel to Mt Blue and inspect various plantings while presentations will include shelter plantings, use of tree fodder, maximising profit and marketing opportunities of farm woodlots, and growing and managing high value timber species.

Maximising profit was a subject of particular interest to Mr Prebble, who has a 25-year-old block of trees not far from harvesting.

If the tree market stayed where it was for another 12 to 18 months, it should be very profitable.

Logs were becoming quite valuable and, if prices held up, largely driven by demand from China, then it could create more interest in forestry, Mr Prebble said.

Other workshops in the South include Queenstown on April 24, looking at trees on Wakatipu's small farms and lifestyle blocks.

Topics to be discussed include species choice for different objectives on smaller properties, growing natives in the Wakatipu, avoiding wilding spread and wilding control.

The morning session will be held at Lake Hayes Pavilion, followed by afternoon visits to Jo Boyd's nursery and lifestyle property on Boyd Rd, and native plantings at Neil Simpson's property at Wye Creek.

Opportunities for trees on all farms in South Otago will be discussed at Telford on May 14.

In the afternoon, there will be a visit to the Landcorp-owned dairy farm managed by Peter and Helen Gilder, where topics will include Landcorp's policy relative to tree use, how to grow good high value timbers, the top 10 native species, riparian planting and funding availability.

The focus for the Southland workshop will be opportunities for trees on intensively managed farms.

It will be held at the Winton Salvation Army Hall on May 15, followed by a visit to the McKenzie family's property at Limehills in the afternoon.