Greenhythe: This Tamar Valley farm is a perfect example of the multiple benefits of trees.
30 Oct 2020
Ed Archer is a fifth-generation Tasmanian farmer. Owner and operator of his 1,400-hectare Tamar Valley farm, Greenhythe, Ed’s predominate enterprise is grazing livestock and seedstock. Ed’s father began diversifying the family farm with plantations over 20 years ago and has since continued the practice. Offering a range of benefits to the farm including providing shelter for livestock, a reduction in lamb mortality during the region’s harsh springs and serving as a long-term family investment, Ed explains he’ll continue to keep up the plantations for the future of his farm, family and the environment.
While the plantations were originally planted for farm diversification, Ed says the strategically placed trees have proven to be a success across different areas of his farm.
Plantations for protection
Making the decision to plant his own plantations later on in 2005, Ed explains it was done primarily for livestock protection.
“On this farm we’ve really focused on a reproduction system, so we’ve got a lot of cows calving and ewes lambing. We can have some pretty rough cold weather in the early springtime so any added protection that we could offer is quite beneficial. In today’s livestock markets when lamb’s worth $8/kg and there’s contracts out there for $10/kg, every extra lamb you can produce adds up quite quickly to your gross margin.”
“There’s a real productivity gain we can make around lamb survival rates. The sheep that we breed today are really fertile and when we ultrasound scan for pregnancy, there’s lots of lambs but when it comes to marking them, for a lot of different reasons, there’s less there. A lot of it has to do with exposure around lambing time, so that’s an area where tress can be really beneficial.”
Ed explains that another benefit for having those trees and planation areas, which are normally fenced off to livestock, is that in those tougher times it gives a bit of extra land with some sort of feed source underneath them that livestock can go in and graze.
“We’re right on the banks of the Tamar River and close to the North coast, so we get fairly strong prevailing northwesterly wind. The plantations were strategically planted to offer some stock shelter and others were used as buffer zones between neighbors for our seedstock operation so there wasn’t any wasted land.”
The Archer's also had issues with stock health from a condition called grass tetany, which is a magnesium imbalance in cattle. The imbalance is usually caused by rough weather that causes the livestock to stop eating. When the balance occurs cattle can be dead within half an hour if not treated.
“We were able to utilize the plantations to offer shelter to the cattle quite quickly. Within one-two years were had decent shelter and the cattle continued eating under that shelter in the rough weather, which solved the problem.”
Ed explains that in a genetic enterprise like theirs the economic loss from losing one animal can be significant.
“We know exactly what that animal is and the genetic potential they can offer us, so if its one of the better ones it hurts quite a bit.”
Carbon, sustainability and consumers
Not only does Ed’s livestock get a benefit of having plantations across his farm, he says it also helps soften his farm’s carbon footprint and helps meet the demand from consumers wanting environmentally conscious products.
“Going forward, there’s been a real push against red meat because of the methane emissions and other fossil fuels we use. But I think we can quite easily integrate some trees into all of our properties and not lose any productivity and also have the benefit of offsetting some carbon.”
Ed says in today’s market, there’s a growing concern from consumers.
“From my time on the back side of our counter in the retail shop, the consumer is more and more concerned about where their food comes from, what environment it’s produced in and if it’s sustainable.
“A lot of people that buy from our retail outlet know who we are, they know our properties and they can see how we manage them. They’re happy about buying our product because we are doing positive things and trying to be sustainable.”
Improved water outcomes
A key part of sustainability on farms is water management. Ed says that while the trees themselves do use some water; the overall benefits of moisture retention are positive.
“For an area around the trees you probably grow less grass, but definitely across the paddock for a certain distance after the trees the grass grows for longer,” says Ed.
The same benefits are seen around certain types of irrigation systems.
“In areas where we’re using gun irrigators, we’ve found that if we can protect those areas from wind we get much higher water use efficiency.”
“From a practical point of view, we’ve got all of these irrigator circles now that we’ve put into squares, so we have all these dead corners. I think it’s a perfect opportunity for us to plant some trees in those areas that aren’t going to be irrigated.”
In addition to water efficiency gains, trees have been used on Greenhythe for water quality management also.
“We have a big gulley with irrigation dams to capture the runoff. Traditionally stock were allowed to get into those areas which brought some erosion issues. We were able to fence that area off and grow some trees on the banks, so we didn’t lose that area to any sort of income stream, but it protected it as well.”
Ed says the water quality in the irrigation dams has improved as a result.
“We were ending up with more and more of our topsoil down in the irrigation dam.”
Unlike crops and livestock, Ed says trees are quite simple to maintain. On the one hand, Greenhythe’s proximity to the export mill means they were able to enter into an agreement with a forestry company.
“It was an attractive option for us to do a joint venture because there was minimal cost outlay for us. We basically and to supply the land, do the fencing and the foresty company did the rest,” says Ed.
“One big advantage with trees is there’s not a lot of day to day management. It’s one of those enterprises that [once they are established] you can forget about and it’s nice to know that they’re still growing and you’re not putting any effort into them.”
Ed says he’s relied on Private Forests Tasmania for guidance and considered advice.
“Private Forests have been a really good resource for me. Any questions I’ve got, if they don’t know the answer, they’ll point me in the right direction. There is a really good resource there in Private Forests and they’re more than happy to help you.”
Looking to the future
While trees may not provide an immediate return, Ed explains why it’s important to consider planting trees for the longer term - both for the family and the business.
“[Trees] can actually be really valuable in a succession plan for a farming family because they can provide a lump sum of money down the track. A crop of trees can be strategically planted early and then harvested around the time that money’s needed.”
Greenhythe also has some areas that are due to be replanted so, Ed says he’s started to investigate replanting them. He’s considering options with pine trees, seeking carbon credits or selling the carbon out of those trees which might cover the establishment costs.
He’s also considering planting trees to manage for higher value sawlogs.
“With the talk about a growing demand for sawn timber, down the track there’s going to be a strong business case to put some money towards growing timber that can be sawn and used in building products.”
On a final note, Ed talks to the beauty of trees in the landscape.
“And for me as well, aesthetically the trees add to the landscape. You know, it feels good – it creates a much nicer work environment. And I think it definitely adds to the value of the land, if you were ever to sell it.”