Tuesday, 25 September 2012

New Zealand Dairy Farms Have So Few Trees. Why?

I want to encourage more trees on dairy farms, including perhaps Cider Apple trees.

 Mixed Tree Species on farms can add to the environmental biodiversity. Imaginative shelter belts create a better work place. Trees add to the aesthetics of the farm. Effective tree shelter belts are good for animal welfare and may increase pasture growth. Could Cider Apple Trees also create another income for dairy farmers?

So why do New Zealand dairy farms have so few trees?



NZ dairy farms dominate the NZ landscape. Too few farmers regularly plant trees on their farms. Too few farmers appreciate how diverse tree planting might add to the sustainable output of the farm. Too many dairy farms have cut out the existing trees. The NZ rural landscape has too few trees.
This wasn't always the case. The black & white photo at the top of this blog is of my grandfather J A Cooksley harvesting home grown pears off his dairy farm at Opiki in the 1930's.

 One of my French farmer friends Yvon (who is himself a very keen farm tree grower) suggests that "Our generation (of dairy farmers) have forgotten how to grow trees"

Do dairy farmers today understand how to grow trees? Every time I visit Europe I’m intrigued by what pasture based dairy farmers are doing to improve their environment & sustainability of their farm business. Farm trees are an essential part of a rural landscape. Trees make a rural farming landscape beautiful. Trees help link the city people to the country and to farmers. More trees on farms would in my view help unite city/farmer thinking about the environment.


In France I saw pasture based dairy farmers planting apple trees on their farms. The apple trees were often Cider tree varieties. Sometimes these Cider trees were planted in small blocks and the apples/pears harvested either for sale to a local Cider maker or bottled into Cider for home consumption. These farms often had bee hives and the apple blossom helped to feed the bees when few other flowers were out. A healthy bee population is of critical importance to agriculture.


French farmers in Brittany (a pasture based dairying area) included apple trees in the tree belts partly for the bees and partly for the sheer joy of being able to eat fresh home grown apples. Every tenth tree in a tree row or talus (French raised soil mound for tree planting on farms) could be a fruit tree. The planted talus--a steep earth berm (an earthen mound often between a road/track & a drain), planted with beeches, oaks, or hornbeam--was traditionally created to delimit the boundaries of farms in both Brittany & Normandy.

Learn about Bretton farmers tree planting

Most New Zealand farmers probably think we live in a country with a lot of trees. Is that really correct? In Europe there are a lot more trees on farms. In Australia most farmers belong to Landcare Australia.

Aussie farmers have planted thousands of trees to help protect and improve the farm environment.
Sadly most NZ dairy farms are stark & bare without many trees. NZ farm tree belts tend to be monoculture species. Have we lost the tree planting skills & the understanding of how trees might contribute positively to a healthy farm environment?
 NZ Landcare Trust can help you learn about trees on farms

Farms can be great places to bring up children. Farmers often forget that they are so lucky to live and work in the country.
I challenge all farmers…..is there a “Magic Spot” on your farm which makes you feel great just sitting, reflecting and thinking? Is it the trees near your favourite place on the farm that makes it really special for you & your family?
If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you urgently need to start a tree planting program for your farm.

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