Want more profit? Plant trees and shrubs

Shelter belt tax break can help boost livestock profits

Business Management
SHELTERBELT FAN: Phil Keegan, Willatook, is a big fan of shelter belts, saying they had improved productivity on his farm. Picture by Katrina Lovell.

SHELTERBELT FAN: Phil Keegan, Willatook, is a big fan of shelter belts, saying they had improved productivity on his farm. Picture by Katrina Lovell.

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South-west Landcare facilitator pushes the benefits of shelter.

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Most livestock producers know the recent spike in cattle and sheep prices will lead more money in their pockets.

But a leading south-west Victorian Landcare facilitator says farmers can also gain a financial advantage - entirely legally - by ploughing some of those profits into an unusual source.

By planting more trees and shrubs in shelterbelts, they would also boost the productivity of livestock, pasture and crops

That, in turn, would further increase profits.

Basalt to Bay Landcare facilitator Lisette Mill said as farmers made more profit, they might be seeking to reduce their tax liability.

One of the best ways of doing so was by putting in shelterbelts.

"It's a brilliant tax advantage, it's the best-kept secret for primary producers," Ms Mill said

"Even if you lease the land on which you are a registered primary producer, you can claim the costs on building fencing and maintaining shelterbelts, against your farm tax.

"If you are making a profit, and you want to reduce the tax on that profit by putting it towards something that will ultimately increase your income and reduce climate risk, this is something to get on."

Shelter belts are a line of vegetation of trees and shrubs, designed to reduce the impact of weather, heat or erosion.

"Its a specific Landcare tax stream - it's been around for a while, but it's been poorly promoted," Ms Mill said.

'It allows farmers to make the most of an advantage that's only given to primary producers.

"They can invest in their own property, so that property becomes more profitable."

Ms Mill said the Australian Tax Office was now measuring the take up of the tax incentive.

"A lot of farmers often comment about how annoyed they are that their advisers, whoever they may be, have not let them know about this.

"But there is astonishment and relief that they are being encouraged to go away and do something about it

"They are being encouraged to work the numbers in their budget, or talk with their accountant or bank manager."

Shelter belts reduced the impact of weather on livestock, pastures and crops.

"They know, in their heart of hearts, they have a problem with the weather, and they need to do something about it," Ms Mill said.

Economic benefits

An Economic Benefits of Native Shelterbelts report had shown lamb losses could be reduced by up to 50 per cent, wool production increased by 31pc and stocking rates could be increased by one to three sheep, per hectare.

Cattle gained more weight per unit of feed when sheltered from the heat and cold.

Shelter from wind reduced moisture loss in late spring pastures by up to 10 millimetres.

Pastures sheltered from wind and heat grew 18pc more grass, while windbreaks increased crop yields by about 25pc.

Every dairy cow needed four square metres of shade, at midday, or productivity would drop.

Unshaded dairy cows produced 26pc less milk during summer.

"If you are a beef producer or dairy farmer, you know cattle have trouble cooling off," she said.

"They can handle cool weather, and even cold, driving rain, but when they are calving in hot, humid weather, they really struggle with that."

Cattle could also die from heat overload, in summer, or it could result in calves with smaller udder capacity.

"When you are in the business of breeding cattle, you do not want to produce animals that have a smaller udder capacity - ever.

"If you don't do anything about it, year on year, it's like copying a copy on a photocopier."

The ATO didn't specify what type of species to plant, or to what width.

"If you have a hankering for apple trees and you want your shelter belts to double-dip, in terms of shade and a product, the ATO is not going to come to your farm and say you can only put a line of gum trees because they are native to the area.

"If you want apple trees, put in apple trees, that's the really great thing about this."

There was only one restriction.

"The trees you put around your house are a garden.

"It's like the ATO fire protection preparedness fact sheet.

"People have tried to claim a swimming pool, as a fire protection dam, and it hasn't got up."

Productivity improvements

Phil Keegan, Willatook, Vic, said he had noticed a marked improvement in productivity, once shelter belts were established.

Mr Keegan said he and his wife Helen moved their dairy herd onto the property in 1994 when it had one "little patch of natives" and three or four rows of cypress trees.

"The cattle had come from a property that had shelter, and we noticed a massive difference, when there was no protection from the south-west winds, in winter, and the sun in summer," Mr Keegan said

But it was only when he started controlling weeds, and changing his planting methods, that he succeeded in establishing new shelter belts.

"That gave us heaps of confidence and a desire to grow more and more trees," he said.

"Every year after we moved in, we planted trees to give some protection to the cattle, and I believe it gives greater value to the property."

It was hard to quantify the full value of increased production, due to other farming inputs, but Mr Keegan said he had noticed changes.

"What I noticed with the property when we first came here, was that when the cold fronts came through, with wind and hail, the cattle would move to the fence line and stop eating.

"We didn't see the milk production fluctuations, once the trees were established.

"When cattle have the opportunity to get out of the elements, whether cold or heat, they will use that natural protection, every time."

He now runs dairy heifers, on agistment, alongside a small beef herd.

"We are not trying to stop the wind; we are trying to break it and slow it down."

Mr Keegan said he often explained the value of shelter belts, to schoolchildren who visited the farm.

"I ask them 'what do you do when you're cold?' and they say, 'put a jumper on,' he said.

"I tell them I haven't got 200 jumpers for the cows

"But I have trees, and the tree becomes like a jumper."

The story Want more profit? Plant trees and shrubs first appeared on Stock & Land.

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