Passion for Paulownia – Graham Smith

Hi all. As I write, the thunder is echoing around the hills and light rain is falling. Grass is no longer in shortage, and the cows appreciate it. Production is up 13% for the season, with the girls still holding at 1.32 kg MS/day, on OAD. I went OAD on 27th December and then started to annoy the fish in Aotea Harbour! It has been great. Ended up with 17% empties, which wasn’t good news, so I will be selling some good young cows. Just baled another cut of lucerne which is absolutely loving this weather. Growth rates have varied wildly recently and it has been a case of keeping a close eye on covers.

As promised in my last blog I will talk a bit about my operation with Paulownias. I run two nurseries on farm to supply around 100 rooted saplings per season. They start out as root cuttings in September, and by May should be up to 6 metres tall. In their first year they achieve this phenomenal growth by having leaves twice the size of what an adult tree will have. I wait until they are dormant in June and then dig them up for planting out. I have to dig a large hole to replant them and that requires some planning as to spacings and location. Once planting is finished they require fencing as the stock will ring bark them if they are not protected. I use two wire electric with the top wire outriggered.

GW Paulownia first year Feb18GW Paulownia milling Feb18

After two years they are ready for a light prune and thereafter will be pruned annually for the rest of their life. Pruning is essential because my customers want “clears”, that is, no knots or blemishes in the timber. They have a tendency to always try to grow branches where you don’t want them. They are milled on size between 15 to 20 years, and up until recently I got a portable saw miller in to do the work. Lately I have been trucking them to a mill, and time will tell which is the best system. I sell the timber through my website (


The trees have to work in with the cows, so they are planted around the edges of the dairy paddocks. They are pruned to 8 metres which gives a moving shade and healthy grass throughout the season. One of the main queries has been “Do they cause eczema?”, but I have no problems because I think the high pruning allows air flow which does not provide ideal conditions for the spores. Also, the high pruning gives a moving shade allowing all the grass to get enough sun which prevents it from going sour. On these hot days the cows love the shade and there is plenty for everyone. At this time of year, I like to prune when the cows are in the paddock so that they can benefit from eating the leaves and twigs. The crashing of breaking branches is the signal for a stampede towards the noise which signals lolly time!

Paulownia feed

I am experimenting with planting densities and have planted up to 100 trees per hectare without any production detriment. If you look at each tree producing about $1000 worth of timber every 20 years, that is a tidy income when you think this is on top of dairy income. By my calculations I will earn about $5000 per hectare per year from timber and another $6500 per year in dairy income (at a $6.00 pay-out).

Paulownia Timber in racks

I also like the fact that I don’t have to get up to the trees at 4:31 am! If I wish to have a break the trees just look after themselves.

Some dates coming up that may interest you:

  • 17th February. Farm forestry field day at Dave Forsythe’s (23 Hinewai Rd, Te Kawa). 10 am. Bring your own lunch. Lots of different trees to look at on a large (650 cows) dairy farm.
  • 18th February. Country Calendar featuring Tess and myself, 7 pm. Where you can have a look at what we do
  • 22nd February. Field day on my farm at 1291 Wharepuhunga Rd, 1 pm. For rural professionals, but all welcome.

As usual I am happy to answer any questions.

Photo credit: thanks to Tess Smith, Te Awamutu Camera Club.