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Diversification, protecting the land, and leaving a legacy. How Chris White is growing the future

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When Chris and Guiliana White bought Willowbend Dairy Farm in Wattle Grove there was barely a tree in sight. The gullies were eroding, there was mud everywhere, the soil was washing away, and there was a lot of undermining in the dispersive soils. They wanted a solution that would retain the gullies as farming area but protect the land for the future. With the help of Private Forests Tasmania, they put in place a riparian plan that is paying dividends.

“Dairy farms are pretty well denuded of trees,” says Chris. “And so, when we came here there were hardly any trees in the gullies at all.

“Cattle are a very heavy animal, so they were breaking up the gullies and there were a lot of environmental and animal health issues that came as a result of that.”

Chris explains that the gullies were a mess. There was mud everywhere, the cattle were breaking up the soil and causing all sorts of problems.

“During winter in particular, the gullies were eroding more and more. A lot of water was running away, and with it a lot of sediment. We were very unhappy watching our soil just wash out to the sea.”

The White’s decided to see what they could do to protect the gullies and their farm for the future. They didn't want to bank the gullies up or dam them because they didn't want to lose the land to farming.

They spoke with Private Forest Tasmania about creating riparian areas, by putting trees into the gullies where it is damp and wet.

Around 8000 trees were planted with Globulus planted on the outside of the gullies and Blackwood in the centre. The gullies were fenced around the trees to keep the animals out at certain times.

“We took advantage of the experience of Private Forests Tasmania. It would have been difficult to get this right without their guidance and leadership,” says Chris.

Riparian Areas: Solving problems and delivering a range of benefits

According to Chris, the forested gullies have delivered a broad range of benefits both environmental and economic.

“The trees have stabilized these areas, which were a real concern to us. They have slowed down the erosion. And, you don't actually lose any of your farm at all. We simply open the gate to these forested areas and the cattle graze amongst the trees.”

Chris says the shelter is proving to be of great benefit to the cows and their calves.

“The forested gullies provide shelter for the animals, especially for the mothers when they are giving birth and for the calves. The shelter belts have created an area where the calves are supported and not hit too hard by the bad weather in wintertime.”

“The other good thing, and I know it's strange for a farmer to say this, but it does actually create a beautiful environment for native animals. We've created a little microcosm. We have birds now throughout the property, and all sorts of animals that use this as their own little habitat.”

In addition to providing shelter for the animals, the trees are also providing beneficial shelter for the surrounding pasture.

The CSIRO conducted research over a number of years to examine the impact that the trees had on the surrounding paddocks.

“We thought the trees might rob the surrounding paddocks of nutrients and moisture,” says Chris, “but it just isn't the case. In fact, they add a little bit more shelter to the paddocks, which helps us.”

The economics

Trees are a healthy addition to any farm, and not just for environmental reasons. Chris says the riparian areas are looking pretty good for them in terms of a commercial investment as well.

“When these trees grow a bit more, say in another 10 years, we'll be able to selectively log them, and I believe they are in very good condition for prime saw logs,” says Chris.

“I don't think there's any doubt that these trees will be worth good money in the future.

“And that's the beauty of it… with selective logging, you can just keep on growing. And in terms of carbon, we're doing our little bit as well, which is important.”

The trees are also adding to the future value of the farm as a whole.

“Another benefit of the trees is that they actually beautify the farm. Any farmer will know that there's something lovely about having a farm that is quite pretty. But it goes beyond that. One day, if ever I wanted pass on or sell the farm, it will be valued higher as a result of the trees.”

In addition to the economic improvements for the future, Chris says there is another legacy:

“That as a farmer, I would prefer to leave the farm in a condition better than I found it.”

View Chris White - Willowbend Dairy Youtube video