Learning about trees – Graham Smith

Although the cows are milking well not all things are going to plan. The submission rate was 85%, close but no cigar. I still have two cows that are reluctant to cycle and as I do not intervene, I will just have to be patient. The girls are holding at 1.8 to 1.9 kg MS per day, but a lack of rain may see that change quickly. We had an hour and a half thunder storm and got 1 mm, whilst over the hill they received 65 mm, bugger! So, I plan to move to a 36 day round in the next two days so that I have cover to capture every drop of rain. I will use silage to get there over 10 to 15 days. I already have two cuts in the pit, using dedicated paddocks which I cut every five weeks. Next cut is due between Xmas and New Year, but I think the volume will be down due to the early dry weather.

GS Hot day, cool cows shaded by 4yr old Paulownias

Hot day, cool cows, shaded by four-year-old Paulownias. Credit Tess Smith, Te Awamutu Camera Club.

Moving on, I have yet to talk about trees, a subject I knew nothing about until I started planting to stop erosion. I have a number of species, but the main plantings are the easy to sell pine tree. With about a 30 year cycle to harvest, they also have quite a high cost structure up front, by the time you have paid for seedlings and planting, and then three pruning lifts. Lastly, they need thinning to final spacings, before you can draw breath and watch them grow. I also found that the first harvest was not problem free, with a hell mess to clean up. Also fences need replacing, races need repairing and water pipes always seem to be too close to the surface. So, four years after harvest things are getting back to normal. If I live long enough to see the next harvest I will be able to offer sage advice on where the skid site should be and the time of year to harvest.

Back in 1992 when the first plantings of pine went in I also received good advice to diversify a little. This resulted in lusitanica (Mexican Cypress) being planted. They have a 40 year cycle (roughly). So I could look at harvest in five years, but I will probably just watch the market and when I need some cash harvest then. That is the good thing about trees, they don’t stop growing, so harvest delays can mean more growth and more value long term. Lusitanica is a straighter version of macrocarpa, that is less prone to canker, which can severely affect growth. The market for this timber will be in garden furniture, sleepers and cladding. But the way uses for timber are developing I would not be surprised to see other value-add uses for this versatile timber.

GS 25 yr old Lusitanicas, turning rough ground into money

Twenty-five year old lusitanicas. Turning rough ground into money. Credit Tess Smith, Te Awamutu Camera Club.

The last type of tree I will talk about is the black walnut. This tree has its origin in the eastern USA, and is of high value as gun butts and furniture, due to its colour qualities and strength. It is quite fussy about site and prefers free draining, highly fertile soils with low to no wind. Wind breaks the branches quite easily, and in its initial stages it is quite slow growing. This does have the benefit of keeping up with pruning quite easily. Like most trees there is value in pruning, and in this tree’s case exceptionally so. If you have the patience to nurture them for 30 years then they can be a retirement fund on their own. At harvest they can be worth up to $20,000 per tree. So, in 20 years I will have 25 trees ready to fell, I hope. I will let you do the calculations, but I will try not to get excited until closer to the time!

GS 5 Yr old Black Walnuts

Five year old black walnuts. Credit Tess Smith, Te Awamutu Camera Club.

Next time I will start on my Paulownia plantings, another interesting story.

Got questions? Happy to answer queries.

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