Agro-Forestry at Wairakaia Station
Combining pastoral grazing and farm forestry at Wairakaia Station
Wairakaia Station is run as a partnership between Rob and Sandra Faulkner and Rob’s sister Jo and her husband Bruce Graham. It won the supreme award in the 2014 East Coast Ballance Farm Environment Awards, and four other awards, including the Massey University Innovation Award. The property has been over 100 years in the Faulkner family. It is also hosting a part of the Beef + Lamb NZ Demonstration Farm programme on the East Coast, aimed at raising the productive potential of uncultivatable hill country using clovers.
The Wairakaia part of the programme has taken the pioneering route of establishing clover pasture after clear-felling pinus radiata forestry, before replanting in seedling trees thereby gaining perhaps seven or eight years of agro-forestry grazing for ewes and lambs, to help pay for the tree planting.
Wairakaia is a 600ha farming business on the coast on the main road 25 minutes south of Gisborne. Topography ranges from flat to steep hill country. It is farmed in partnership by the Faulkner family. Brother and sister Rob Faulkner and Jo Graham are fourth generation Faulkner farmers on that land.
The farming mix is 5000 sheep and beef stock units, up to 190ha owned and leased land cropped each year with squash, maize and seed corn, 32ha of forestry, 1ha of tree lucerne, and 10ha of citrus. The farm also produces and plants poplar poles.
Three generations of Faulkners have been keen on forestry and woodlot tree planting for erosion control and amenity woods and pines planted nearly 30 years ago after Cyclone Bola are now mature and ready to harvest. Rob and Jo’s father Rodney practised a high standard of silviculture (tree management) and this is now paying dividends.
Wairakaia is in the second year of a B+LNZ clover establishment trial for uncultivatable hill country, in order to boost sheep productivity. The first year a 4ha block was sown with arrowleaf clover (Trifolium vesiculosum), a late-maturing annual clover that sets hard seed and regenerates in following years. The idea was to drive ewe and lamb production in the spring on medium to steep hill country that in its original state would have carried perhaps 5 stock units/ha. The clover will also provide nitrogen fixation. Fortunately Wairakaia does not have an aggressive weed problem with gorse or blackberry, but over time Rob expects that the clover will be joined by grasses.
In the second season the project has changed direction and shifted to forestry land on Wairakaia. A block of 13ha of Pinus radiata at 320 trees/ha, aged 27 years, that was planted after the devastation of Cyclone Bola in 1988, was logged in January under supervision by Logic Forest Solutions of Gisborne.
The block will be burned using a helicopter fire starter in early April, with a monsoon bucket on stand-by, left for another three or four weeks for weed establishment (thistles and inkweed), the weeds sprayed out and then sub clover and annual clover seed and fertiliser spread. Because of the use of helicopter for all parts, the clover establishment will cost up to $1000/ha. After what Rob expects to be a good seed strike and clover establishment, the block will be ready for grazing in spring, and then in November he will shut the gate and let the clover seed set, fall to the ground and be ready for germination again next winter.
The block will be planted with pine seedlings again in the winter of 2018, at around 1000/ha, and then as those seedlings grow up and are thinned, Rob expects seven to eight years of clover grazing for sheep in spring, until the trees get large enough to block the light. The fertiliser spread will be complementary to the nitrogen fixation of the clovers (legumes) and the biggest benefit of clovers versus grasses for this job is the strong, high ME spring growth.
Logic Forest Solutions was contracted to manage the log harvest, including an estimate of the value of the crop before beginning, to ensure the returns will be acceptable for the land owner. The Wairakaia forest was very well managed by Rob Faulkner’s father Rodney (Trees for Bees, Rural Delivery 2014) now in retirement in Gisborne. Rodney managed the trees for 27 years, including selecting a good, accessible site, and pruning up to 8m in height in the early years, which resulted in two grade logs out of one butt. The return was a very good $46,000/ha.
Logic also organised the logging consent with the council, arranged the forestry crew, took care of health and safety, and made sure the logs were prepared to the highest value. Most of the logging was done by modern machine, but some trees were felled manually. The crew took two-and-a-half weeks.
Logic is able to advise farmers on the value, accessibility, harvesting, and marketing.