Murray Redpath, NZTCA National President.
Treecropper | June 2013 | Issue 74 | P2
Waikato hosted a wonderful conference, with workshops, speakers and field trips showing productive enterprises over a wide range of scales from back yards to large commercial orchards.
It is wonderful watching our members share information, debate the different philosophies of how to grow a productive landscape, and enjoy themselves, the same things that have gone on during Tree Crops conferences for as long as I can remember.
A news item in the January 28th copy of the NZ Farmers Weekly announced, “NZ grassland ripe to be restored”.
This article describes the work of Dr John Dymond’s team at Landcare Research that has identified more than two million hectares of grassland that could be restored to indigenous forest, plus a further 700,000 hectares of shrub land (presumably manuka) that could be protected from clearance for carbon sequestration.
These areas have been selected because the team has calculated that the ‘ecosystem services’ outweighed the value of lost food production. These ‘ecosystem services’ include clean water, pollination of crops and appealing landscapes.
I don’t think that New Zealand can afford to ‘retire’ such large areas of productive land into non-productive uses. The government has called for increased exports to sustain our economy, and the bulk of those exports will come off the land.
How much extra production can we squeeze off the more productive farmland to compensate for the loss of 2.7 million hectares of farmland?
There seems to be lack of vision when considering land use options. Planners seem to consider just two options — existing uses such as livestock or pines, or regeneration to indigenous vegetation.
If we are going to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels by developing a society based on what we can grow, then we will actually need to use as much productive land as possible to provide the raw materials for biofuels and biologically-based petrochemical substitutes.
Could tree crops provide most of the ‘ecosystem services’ that are required? We have long lists of trees and shrubs that provide bee food. Soil conservation plants are readily available and effective erosion control systems were worked out years ago.
Surely mixed plantings of trees for various productive uses, planted according to land capability, could create a landscape of greater variety and as much appeal as endless vistas of indigenous forest. We just need to develop systems that provide an economical return from tree and shrub plantings integrated into existing farm operations.
At Conference, Mike Moss, a dairy farmer from Raglan, described how he is trying to integrate trees into his commercial operation.
These trees are not just for conservation, or biodiversity, or beauty, but to provide profitable services to his business.
Most of the ideas that he is implementing, such as untreated ground-durable posts and using poplar poles as ‘living’ posts are not new ideas. They have been around since the beginnings of NZTCA, but it is working out the best way to fit them into profitable farming systems, and to convince farmers that they do work profitably, that presents a challenge to land managers and scientists.
It is pleasing to see Mike Moss’s farm being profiled on Country Calendar, getting the exposure that such a fine example of sensible land use deserves.