Gary sees a future in eucalyptus

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By DAVID HILL

Gary Fleming’s efforts to advocate for the value of eucalyptus trees has been recognised.

The North Canterbury farmer was named Farm Forester of the Year at the New Zealand Farm Forestry Association conference held in Rotorua.

“It’s a good award to get, as it takes a fair bit of dedication,” Mr Fleming says. “There’s a lot of people in the South Island who grow trees and anybody in farm forestry can apply for it.”

The North Canterbury branch chairman was nominated by his branch committee earlier this year, after missing a meeting due to illness.

Mr Fleming brought two trophies back from the conference, after the North Canterbury branch won the best branch award.

He was elected branch chairman this year after serving 15 years as secretary. He has also been secretary-treasurer of the Eucalyptus Action Branch for 10 years.

“I’ve been a member for over 30 years. I joined the farm forestry association when I was only 17.

“Growing trees on farm has always been a passion of mine.”

He farms 100 hectares at Mt Grey, on the edge of the Ashley Forest, near Balcairn.

The farm has been in his family since his great-grandfather bought it in 1917, and he now runs 500 ewes and 150 hinds.

About 15 percent of the farm is planted in trees and, following a large harvest and the wind storm in 2013, Mr Fleming is gradually replanting in eucalyptus and cypress trees. “The pines have done a good job and built up the soil, but they don’t grow what I would call a quality timber and it has to be treated.

“The real cost comes afterwards as offcuts have to be disposed of, and it will be more expensive to get rid of old houses in the future because of the chemicals.”

He says eucalyptus and cypress timber is “naturally durable” and better for the environment.

“Most of our radiata pine goes to China for boxing around concrete and then is turned into firewood, or it is turned into paper, so it’s just carbon released back into the atmosphere.

“But if it becomes a permanent structure like a house, it can stand for 100 years.”

Mr Fleming says planting trees provided an income source on land “where you can’t get the tractor over” and it provides shelter, with the sheep put among the trees during lambing.

Native birds also like the eucalyptus trees, he says.

Farmers who planted trees could get an income either from harvesting or from carbon credits.

The North Canterbury branch runs monthly field days and workshops. It benefits from a close association with the University of Canterbury’s school of forestry.