Exotic pines, willows, poplars and cypresses are now common in rural New Zealand. However, if you fly over farmed hill country, much of it has the appearance of a giant golf-course – an expanse of rolling green dotted here and there with just a few trees.
Trees are more in evidence in the broad valleys and plains, with willows lining the banks of waterways, and pines, poplars and cypress forming tall shelterbelts that criss-cross the landscape.
Trees or lambs
In the early 20th century an Englishman who owned a hill country block near Te Kūiti decided to plant a large number of trees every year to beautify the property. One year planting was delayed and the farm manager sent a telegraph to England to advise that ‘[P]lanting would not be completed because of the onset of lambing’. Back came the reply: ‘Delay lambing!’
Trees for shelter
The first farmers to arrive on the treeless plains of Canterbury and Wairarapa quickly planted exotic trees for shelter around their homesteads and stockyards. Later they planted shelterbelts to protect their crops and fields.
In other parts of New Zealand, settlers were busy burning and cutting down native trees to clear land for pasture and settlements. However, they soon learned that shelter was needed to protect their crops and orchards once native forest was cleared.
For and against trees on farms
Over the years there have been differing views among farmers about growing trees on their land.
Those in favour of trees on farms argue that they:
- provide shelter and shade
- help prevent soil erosion
- help control rivers and provide flood protection
- provide firewood and timber
- provide a habitat for wildlife
- can provide fodder for animals during droughts
- are attractive and enhance the landscape
- absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Other farmers consider the time and costs associated with planting and managing trees outweigh their benefits. They can make more money from raising stock on good pasture than they can from raising trees, and so are reluctant to sacrifice part of a field to a tree. Similarly, while it may be more profitable in the long term to convert poor-quality land to forestry, they are unwilling to risk the short-term profit from running stock on the land.