When Trevor Johnson was expanding Paparata Station, an 8000-hectare property on the Forgotten World Highway he has farmed for his whole working career, some of the country he added to the station was quite steep and difficult.
“When I say difficult, they’re difficult to farm with livestock, you don’t get the same production or grass growth that you would from the lower, not-so-steep country,” says Trevor.
Having investigated the difference between continuing to farm the hill country and planting trees on those areas of the property, Trevor says he realised the area was going to deliver a lot more income per hectare if it was converted to forestry than his family could achieve farming on the poorer blocks.
“We’ve put that country that’s quite marginal into trees,” says Trevor, “and we’re going to get a good return from it. The income from forestry we’re seeing is helping offset where the grazing and the sheep and beef farming is struggling.”
“So just spreading 1000 hectares into forestry is certainly a very big help. Going forward it’s an investment that will grow and contribute to supporting the grazing country.”
The initial income the operation has derived from the forestry lease has been used to purchase new property on country more suitable for sheep and beef farming.
“So really it was the nature of the deal that sold it to us. We’re able to shift land into pine trees land that was not very productive and switched that capital into a farm alongside where we could finish more of our grazing stock.”
Trevor says one of the key attractions of the arrangement with New Zealand Carbon Farming, which leases the land and takes care of the establishment, planting and ongoing management of the forest, was that his family would be able to keep the land.
“We chose this group to be involved with because we were able to retain ownership of the land and they provided capital and the expertise to plant the country,” says Trevor.
“We’re in farming and we don’t intend to sell at this stage – my children are happy to look at it as a long-term investment. We think that the addition of forestry will be an advantage down the line when the next generation needs the income.”
He’s also been impressed by the working relationship established between his farm management team and NZCF.
“One of the very pleasing things about this whole venture is the way my staff and the staff of New Zealand Carbon Farming have got on together – my managers are very happy. The whole operation has been exceptionally well managed.”
Trevor says he’s very conscious of the impact of climate change, with the forest providing added benefits in terms of the resilience of his property.
“Over the last five to 10 years, we’ve seen it change – I think all farmers have – and we’ve had to change our systems in response,” Trevor says. “So it’s important that we all take on the challenge.”
“In particular, we’re looking at the forest as a way of protecting our water and reducing the impacts of issues like heavier rain. The trees are going to protect our stock water and help stop some of the sediment that runs off these hills.”
Ultimately Trevor says the diversification of his farming operation at Paparata Station will be a win-win for the future.
“I think if you’ve got land that is not so productive, it’s a marvellous way of increasing your income and providing an investment that will mature in the years to come. It’s also diversification when the farming’s not so profitable or the commodities market is struggling – some rental income then becomes very important.”
“We also haven’t reduced our numbers of stock because we’ve bought property alongside that’s more productive and so it’s a win-win for us.”
“To me it’s just the best use of land. I’ve spoken to my neighbours and they’re wondering whether there might be opportunities for them in forestry too.”