Planting on marginal land promoted

Neil Cullen (left) and his son Simon Cullen are having a pine plantation forestry harvested on...
Neil Cullen (left) and his son Simon Cullen are having a pine plantation forestry harvested on their sheep and beef farm in Glenomaru Valley in the Catlins. PHOTO: SHAWN MCAVINUE
As the final trees are harvested in a forestry block on a South Otago sheep and beef farm this week, its owners are encouraging other southerners to look at production forestry as a way to add value to their marginal land.

Three generations of the Cullen family have farmed their 650ha property Glenmore in Glenomaru Valley, nearly 15km north from Owaka in the Catlins.

Neil Cullen, a former New Zealand Farm Forestry Association president, who remains on the national executive, is now retired from farming and lives in Waihola.

His son Simon lives on the farm and runs it with his partner Rachel.

The farm has about 340ha suitable for stock grazing, 155ha of production forestry and 130ha of native forestry.

The species in the production forestry was about 60% radiata pines and the rest includes Douglas firs, cypresses, eucalypts and redwoods.

Neil said pine was the preferred species because it had established markets and grew in many conditions.

As the trees were planted on unproductive land, the stocking rate had remained about the same.

Simon said he had calculated the greenhouse gas emissions for the farm in the 2020-21 season and the result was the sequestration of about 4tonnes of carbon per hectare on average.

"It’s a pleasing number with the way things are heading with He Waka Eke Noa."

As the farm was on the positive side of the emissions ledger, he hoped it might be able to make money under the farm emissions pricing plan.

Neil said Otago and Southland included plenty of marginal land for running livestock, such as gullies, which would be suitable for production forestry.

He encouraged farmers to investigate planting trees on marginal land, rather than considering selling out to forestry companies, although he could understand a farmer selling their farm to a forestry company for good money if they were set to retire and had no children wanting to continue on the farm.

Neil’s late parents, Bob and Sheila, bought the farm in 1968 and his father planted the first production trees on the farm in 1972.

His father planted about 45ha of forestry on south-facing slopes of the farm in the 1970s and 1980s.

Grass growth was slow on the slopes and it was too steep to drive a tractor across to improve the land so it was more valuable to use it for growing trees than farming stock.

Neil and his wife Pam returned to Glenmore in 1991 and cleared bracken and scrub to plant a 7ha block in pine forestry.

"I’ve been planting a bit ever since."

The 7ha block was now being harvested by a Venture Forestry crew.

Production forestry was a long term investment.

"The hardest part is the first 30 years while they are growing."

He had long-term confidence in the industry because wood was a more sustainable product, when compared with other construction materials such as concrete and steel.

Demand for logs would remain steady, he said.

Many businesses were replacing coal and gas boilers for systems burning forestry waste.

"There’s a lot of uses for wood."

Now a farmer could earn carbon payments from the emissions trading scheme from the day a production forestry block was planted, which made the wait easier.

As rules of the scheme could change, carbon payments should be considered a bonus, rather than the main objective of a planting, he said.

Forestry income made farm succession planning easier including being able to pay out some family members and avoiding a need to take on more bank debt, Neil said.

"When you are aged 30 or 40 is the ideal time to be planting the trees because the income is going to be there when you retire. It makes more sense to do it when your younger, even though it might be a struggle."




Sponsored Content