Getting started in farm forestry
Forests are a valuable form of erosion control and carbon management. The timber they produce can also provide a supplementary income. Find out what you need to know to start your own farm forest.
Trees bring benefits to farms
The benefits of planting on farmland include:
- soil retention on steep slopes
- revenue generation in the long term – around 25 to 35 years
- landscape diversity and wildlife habitat
- shade for livestock
- carbon absorption – a valuable part of managing and mitigating climate change
- carbon credits – subject to the provisions in the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).
Planning your forest
Forests are a long term investment – changing your mind once you've begun can be expensive. Consider:
- why you're planting a forest – what incentives or benefits do you want?
- where to plant your new forest
- what types of trees will work best for your land
- the size of your new forest
- the cost – preparation, planting, maintenance and harvesting
- resource management – talk to your local council before you begin making plans
- if, how and when your forest will be harvested.
Different trees can provide different benefits for your farm. Deciding what you want from your trees is an important first step.
You'll have to consider whether:
- you'll want to harvest your trees for timber and what extra infrastructure (like roads or buildings) you may need
- you plan to sell the forested land, or the land near it, in the next few years
- the area is prone to wilding conifer spread and what resources you have to control this
- the area has a significant pest problem you may need to manage.
You'll also have to decide how much money you have to spend on clearing land and what paddocks next to the forest will be used for.
Some land will be ideal for forestry. You could plant your new forest:
- on a slope or area of high land that's prone to erosion
- near livestock paddocks that have no natural shelter
- in areas prone to high wind where a break is needed
- in a riparian zone (beside a waterway) – a great way to restrict stock access and comply with the Dairying and Clean Streams Accord.
It's better not to plants forests where:
- native vegetation is growing – particularly if you plan to plant pines
- land is classed as ideal for arable or pastoral farming
- land is in an area of significant value.
Native species are purpose-built for New Zealand's climate but many exotic species also do well here.
Native trees are important for New Zealand's ecosystem – they provide food and habitat for our native birds and creatures. If you want to sequester carbon (store it in trees), or provide shade or a windbreak for your paddocks long-term, then native trees may be a good idea.
If you're considering growing native trees for timber, note that:
- they are very slow growing
- there are regulations around the export of native timber and native timber products.
Radiata pine is the most commonly grown plantation forest species. Radiata timber can be used for a broad range of purposes and can be profitable for owners – even in small stands.
Other exotic species
Farmers have had success growing several exotic species, including:
- Douglas Fir
It's also possible to grow some deciduous hardwoods in smaller quantities, including:
- European Ash
- Black Locust
Talk to your local council before making any decisions
Local and regional councils are responsible for administering the Resource Management Act and local body regulations. They also keep track of areas of significant value – sections of land that are protected for cultural, historical or ecological reasons and cannot be forested.
Areas of significant value may:
- contain historic pā or burial sites
- be considered tapu
- be controlled by your local iwi
- form a protected habitat for native wildlife (including wetlands).
Changes to resource management administration
National standards have replaced local and regional resource management plans for plantation forests. The National Environmental Standards for Plantation Forestry (NES-PF) came into effect on 1 May 2018 and provide a consistent set of regulations for plantation forestry activities.
Help is available
It's a good idea to engage a professional forestry consultant before you decide what to plant and where. The NZ Institute of Forestry maintains a list of registered consultants.
Advice and support
Forestry industry bodies and private interest groups provide a range of advice and support to both commercial and private forest owners. Find out more on each association's website.
- Farm Forestry Association
- Forest Owners' Association
- NZ Wood
- Tāne's Trees Trust
- Dryland Forestry Initiative
You may be eligible for assistance
MPI has funding available to encourage innovation and support forestry projects that improve land production or reduce erosion.
If your iwi or hapū has land in collective ownership, you may be eligible for development assistance through our Māori agribusiness programme.
Subscribe to our sustainable forestry bulletin
The Sustainable Forestry Bulletin is about keeping people with an interest in forestry informed.
To subscribe to the newsletter:
Find out more
On our website:
- Forestry production and trade statistics
- Forestry in the Emissions Trading Scheme
- National Environmental Standard
- Sustainable Farming Fund database – search using the keyword 'forest'
- Forestry research and reporting database – Climate Cloud
- Land use environmental snapshot report – Ministry for the Environment
- Read the full Resource Management Act (1991) – New Zealand Legislation
Who to contact
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