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April, 2009

The Farm Forestry Model - An Intro

There is no question that as a group, farm foresters are at the top of the list when it comes to sustainable land management practitioners and practices.

Farm forestry offers many environmental and economic gains, including soil conservation, improved water quality, shelter, shade, amenity, enhanced indigenous biodiversity, stock fodder, carbon sequestration as well as a more profitable land use on much of our lower productivity farmland.  In addition there are the many advantages of wood as a renewable, carbon sequestering, low energy material which can also be used as fuel or chemical raw material.

Practices which might appear today to be common sense have not always enjoyed this status. They are the result of over 50 years of trial and error, discussion groups, field days, research and conferences - in other words membership of the NZFFA. However these are not universally accepted today, as record low new tree planting rates indicate.

Sustainable land management

Farm forestry is synonymous with sustainable land management and over the years there have been some very notable practitioners such as Neil Barr, Joll Hosking and Jim Pottinger.  Today there are in excess of half a million hectares of land sustainably managed by farm foresters.  The NZFFA has always recognised excellence in farm forestry with its annual farm forester and sustainability awards. Many of these award winners have also won other environmental awards such as those promoted by Ballance.

In recent years, awareness of environmental issues has increased and climate change has entered the political arena.  In this new world of carbon footprints, carbon neutrality and climate change, sustainability and sustainable land management have become the new paradigm. Listening to today’s politicians and policy makers, one could be forgiven for thinking that sustainability and sustainable land management are new concepts and practices discovered by them.

Modesty and reluctance

How has the situation arisen where on one hand sustainable land management is seen as something new and on the other hand farm foresters have been practising it for decades? There are several reasons, but very much to the fore is the fact that farm foresters and the NZFFA have been very modest and reluctant in promoting themselves and their practices to the outside world.  To many this is surprising, particularly as amongst farm foresters there has always been a willingness to share and discuss their ideas and practices.

This is not to say there has not been publicity. The NZFFA publishes the Tree Grower and numerous other publications, but at the end of the day they tend to be only read by farm foresters – in effect we are preaching to the converted.  The nett result of all this is that farm forestry is really not considered to be part of mainstream New Zealand agriculture.

A simple and clear message

Can this be changed and if so how? It probably can be improved on, but before any change happens, farm foresters and the NZFFA need have a simple and clear message of what farm forestry is.  Therefore the NZFFA has set about developing what is currently being called the Farm Forestry Model.  The model is in effect what farm foresters do and how they do it – something that farm foresters take for granted but it can be like a foreign language to non farm foresters.

The NZFFA is documenting farm forestry as it practised throughout the country. If we can develop a simple clear farm forestry message, support it with good practical examples and make it easy to access, we may succeed in promoting farm forestry to a wider audience.

Patrick Milne

Farm Forestry - Headlines

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