THE National Farmers Federation has returned from a farm forestry fact finding mission to NZ with a positive view about the neighbouring country’s industry and potential for development of the sector in Australia.
The trans-Tasman tour involving senior representatives from the Australian Forest Products Association (AFPA) and the NFF examined farm forestry operations near Rotorua.
It comes on the back of the NFF signalling expanded interest in the forestry sector as a legitimate option for farmers to diversify incomes by producing a marketable product.
The AFPA is also looking at advancing a strategic plan with the federal government where farmers would play a key role, to bolster economic returns and stimulate growth for the $24 billion industry.
AFPA Chair Greg McCormack said New Zealanders “do farm forestry really well” and the industry was “very much accepted and respected among NZ farmers”.
“Australia can certainly learn a lot from our neighbours on this issue,” he said.
“There are a multitude of benefits to farm forestry including investment and income diversification for traditional farmers, crop and stock protection and improved water quality on properties.
“In Australia, we haven’t been as accepting of the practice, but hopefully with the NFF taking a strong and unprecedented interest, feelings will continue to change.”
Ms Simson said there was a benefit to seeing the differences in how different countries produced a range of agricultural products and with farm forestry, there were “some excellent operations in NZ”.
“In NZ, more than 578,000 hectares or 34 per cent of the plantation forest is owned by private individuals with parcels of no more than 10,000 hectares,” she said.
By contrast in Australia, there are 150,000 hectares of small scale planted forest established by farmers.
“Furthermore, in places like the United States and Sweden, more like 50pc of forests are owned by farmers, families and small landholders.”
AFPSA said current research on farm forestry in Australia was pointing to real benefits with early results from the CSIRO showing when 5 to 10pc of a farm is under trees, it can increase the productivity of other agricultural products on the farm.
“There’s a way to go, but the more talk about it, the more we talk up the benefits, the take-up of farm forestry will improve in Australia,” Ms Simson said.
The NFF and AFPA delegation visited the property of NZ farmer Geoff Rolleston near Rotorua, to look at farm forestry operations.
Mr Rolleston said Australia could learn from the progress of farm forestry in NZ, not only in financial terms, but also on how the stigma that farmers don’t plant trees, can be shaken.
“Australian farmers shouldn’t be afraid about the notion of having a small proportion of their farm under plantation trees - they should in fact embrace it as a positive step forward in the business of farming,” he said.
“First and foremost, the timber from farm forestry can provide farmers with another income source, in addition to their primary production.
“However, there are a range of other benefits which can increase farm productivity for your primary income source; trees provide shelter for stock and crops and they can improve water quality of a farming area.”
Mr Rolleston said there was a range of business models farmers could use to diversify their farming operation to include farm forestry.
“At one end of the spectrum farmers can ‘go it alone’ and manage the planting, care, maintenance and marketing of the timber themselves,” he said.
“Otherwise, as with many other areas in agriculture, they can utilise the support and knowledge from a group such as a co-operative structure.
“Or they can outsource the management and sales entirely by using aggregators and forest managers.
“Each model comes with its own opportunities and challenges and armed with the right information farmers can work out which model is best for their business.”
He said NZ farmers also received carbon payments for farm forestry which helps offset the initial cost of planting and the later income from timber was “a great additional income source”.
“It makes absolute sense for us to be investing in trees on our property here - it’s a cultural change as much as a business one,” he said.
“I can understand that in Australia there is a hesitance to plant trees rather than clear them, but I can tell you from our experience, it’s been a terrific move for us.
“Looking to the future, engaging in farm forestry practices is a no brainer.
“It has increased our productivity of our sheep and cattle operation and into the long term the income from timber will diversify our interests.”
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