Autumn wrap up, tree felling, and carbon credits – Graham Smith

Early June reminds me of my younger days when the dreaded shifting time came up. Moving house, children, machinery, and livestock. It was a means to an end and would not have been possible without the help of family and friends. There was always the excitement of a new job and all the work required to adjust to a new employer and conditions. It was good that I was young because all that disruption would not enthuse me anymore! Now I have my farm, all that hard work has paid off and I am my own master, well, nearly. It appears that bureaucratic creep is slowly trying to wrest my grip on the land. I’m resisting but I feel the slope is slippery and people in offices are looking for new ways to change things. I’m not resistant to change, but I need convincing that genuine progress will result from this constant niggle in the background. I’m not quitting this land, but I do struggle to see the relevance of some proposed or realised new regulation. Three Waters will affect me and my family. It appears I failed to provide my family with good water, something I would dispute if I thought it would make any difference. We have a spring on the farm that provides quality water consistently year in and out. It was lucky that this spring is so good, or we may have used the roof water, which from a 100-year-old house would surely have contained lead from the old paint. My good friend who many years ago went through the same trials as me to own a farm, being farmworker, manager, contract milker, and sharemilker and living in accommodation provided on the farm was not so lucky. The rainwater from one job was contaminated by lead and damaged his infant son permanently. So, bear in mind those old lead head nails when the pressure comes on to secure your water supply or we could end up like the Romans!

The weather has dominated management and water, or the lack of it, has made it difficult to build up feed for the winter. The herd was dried off as soon as the pit silage ran out on 25th April. Still this season has shown an improvement on previous OAD years. We achieved 314 kg solids per cow and 909 kg per ha. Whilst not in the realm of my TAD records, the trend is upwards as the herd and myself adjust to the new system. Currently we are on a 100 day round trying to build feed for spring. Cover is low at 1600 kg DM/ha. Baleage, in the form of Paulownia leaves, is helping to achieve round length and the addition of 70 kg/ha of urea should do the rest in the current mild conditions. The Paulownias have been reluctant to shed their leaves due to mild conditions and I barely finish baling and they are fed out again. Each tree can hold up to 70 kg of leaves and it is a simple matter of rowing them up and baling in the accessible areas.

The R1s are looking good and they are just starting on a 70/30 PKE/DDG blend at 2 to 3 kg day to get them over the line.

Felling trees is an inherently dangerous job and one I dread every year. This season I have felled the most trees ever and this is a reflection of overstocking of trees and customer demand for timber. I felled a full line standing by the race. To guarantee they fell away from the race and two fences I used my logging winch on the back of my old David Brown 995. Pleased to say the trees saw it my way and we had no trouble. Clive, my sawmiller did the saw work, and I worked the winch and gave advice! Planning is key to a job like this and we discussed the overall plan before we started and then any gnarly trees had their own discussion. Once down the saw log is removed and the head logs and branches are cleaned up. It makes a fair old mess but with some practice it only took a few days to clean it up. The dry weather helped and there was no mud but plenty of dust. Once the milling is finished the sawn timber is removed in filleted packets to a ridge on my farm that has good air flow. It is stacked and then fitted with a roof and left to dry for three to four months. Going into winter means the process could take a month or two longer, time will tell. Pasture damage is guaranteed so once the rains came I oversowed with an annual ryegrass to mitigate the damage.

I have been slowly accumulating carbon credits on both my pine plantations and the Paulownias. I will discuss the Paulownias mostly because that is relatable to milking cows and growing them as well. As you know, the Paulownias are planted around most of my fencelines and in rows through a lot of the paddocks. My early attempts at in-paddock planting were too dense and have restricted grass growth. But I am learning, and have thinned them down quite a lot. Now I plant to achieve 35 to 45% canopy cover. Anything over 30% qualifies me to claim Carbon Credits (CC). I use a consultant to help me apply for and calculate my CC with MPI. As the value of the credit rises so does my income per hectare. I have not claimed the cash from any yet but when I need to it is there. As a rough guide my income per hectare off the Paulownias is:

Year Units
1 2
2 7
3 17
4 21
5 33
6 37
7 39


As can be seen, the units level off after year 5, and then slowly decline, but at $76/unit there is value there. I am in my third year of claiming and based on those figures have made $1976 per hectare. Initial costs are about $1500 for a consultant plus planting and fencing costs. The tables run for 35 years so you can do some rough sums on the potential income that is largely passive after the initial planting work. Also, there is potential for the tables to run up to 50 years once further research is done. Finally, although the price is $76/ unit currently the predictions are that this could double or triple in the future.

The risks are political interference, weather storms, or other acts of nature. If you go down this track, always get professional advice before starting and discuss all the ins and outs of this system. It is new to all of us but as small farmers we would be daft to ignore the income potential.

You are welcome to contact me to discuss it further.

Lastly, I attended a Dairy Environmental Leaders forum. It showed us the way we should be going environmentally, and I am sure you will hear more of what I intend to do in that space.

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