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How strategically planted trees have transformed Nosswick

30 Oct 2020


When Andrew Colvin purchased his farm, Nosswick, at Blackwood Creek in Tasmania’s north in 1981 it was basically bare. There was minimal fencing and scattered trees. Like a lot of farmers at the time, Andrew needed to increase production, so he put in a lot of infrastructure that required removal of many trees.

After the first five years of development, most of the scattered trees on the property were gone. Forty years later, after four decades of strategic planting, Nosswick is heavily treed, which has made Nosswick more profitable, far more beautiful and a haven for wildlife as well as prime lambs.

Andrew farms grassed crops and prime lambs, both of which he explains, benefit from companion planting with trees.

“My requirements for growing trees are different from some people because the woodlot is not the primary reason why I grow trees. Firstly, I want to shelter the livestock, particularly in the exposed pivot circles for the lambing ewes. Secondly, I want trees for water management.”

Nosswick has a perched water table, which means that the water sits right at the surface. In wintertime, the property was traditionally very wet. Andrew has used strategically planted trees to help reduce the water level during wet times and improve water efficiency when irrigating in dryer times.

“So, drainage is very important, and shelter. Those two things are my top priorities. The trees have certainly made a very big difference,” says Andrew.

“We originally started out just planting out the corners of circles, which is an oxymoron, but you get the picture square paddock, the corners.

“We've since gone into quite large-scale plantings of trees. At one stage, we were putting in 10,000 trees a year just in corners around circles. We've got some woodlots, but the majority of our plantings now are mixed species with Blackwood’s and right down to sedges and hakeas and shrubs.”

The economics 

Some farmers believe that they're going to get a better return by having no trees and running stock on that pasture. They think there's a loss of productivity as a result of planting trees. Andrew says, “I would argue strongly against that.”

“It's hard to put a dollar figure on it. But my observation of how livestock move in cold weather is that there are great benefits from having trees.

“I don't really want to grow the trees and then chop them down and start again. I'm very happy to put them in once and get the economic benefit from increased stocking rates, and things like that.”

Andrew’s son Scott has returned home with a University Degree in Agricultural Economics and has taken over management of the farm.

“Scott's probably more economically driven than I am or have been. The bottom line is particularly important. That happens with most people that are in their thirties, they're driving the business so, everything is worked out to the last cent, which is great. But at the same time, he's very happy to plant trees.”

Start early – plant when you’re developing 

Andrew says, that his observation has been that farmers who are developing their properties all want to plant trees, but it's something that gets pushed to down the track.

“They’ve got to get the pivots in and then another pivot in. I look at it slightly differently, having gone exactly down that road. It was pretty tough at the end of the wool boom. Nobody had any money and we were trying to develop and put in irrigation.

“I put my trees in at the same time as I was putting in the irrigation because I could see that there was going to be a benefit. You think at the time it's a struggle to do it, but you get the benefit virtually from year one onwards. So, try to do it at the same time, is my advice.”
The secret to success? Preparation. 

The secret to getting a successful outcome with trees, according to Andrew, is ground preparation. “It’s absolutely critical to do it properly,” he says.

“If I was going to be planting trees in the corners of pivots again, I’d start early, and firstly do a bit of research into what species grow well in my district.

Then, and I stress this to a lot of people that ask me about trees, the more work you put in to ground preparation the more successful you will be - spraying it off in advance, ripping it in advance in the summertime, creating a good seed bed. Do these things well and the quicker your trees will grow.

Conservation, Habitat and Aesthetics 

Andrew says that he has to admit to being a bit of a conservationist. In addition to the productivity benefits on the farm, he wanted to provide habitat for wildlife, linking some of the farms remaining areas of native bush to the trees around the pivot circles with wildlife corridors.

“We wanted to get a complete ecosystem back into the environment,” explains Andrew.

“We've collected a lot of seed from around the area, so we're putting the Providence back in and it's working very well.”

He also explains that whilst it might seem obvious, he really values the aesthetics of having trees on the farm.

“You know, for me a barren landscape in rural Tasmania, is neither appropriate nor particularly attractive.”

And Andrew has certainly achieved an aesthetically beautiful property. Driving into Nosswick you are met with a stunning vista of manicured parkland where not a blade of grass seems out of place and fat lambs luxuriate in what must certainly be the poster farm for happy livestock.