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Conference 2017

"The Challenge of Diverse Landforms"


Conference 2017 was held at Feilding, Manawatu, Thursday 6th April - Sunday 9th April 2017.

The Middle Districts branch held Conference 2017.


The Best Is Always in the Middle


Some years ago one of the Tui advertisements was “I’m going to Palmy for New Year – yeah right”, suggesting, of course, that Palmerston North, and surrounds are boring.  Rest assured that this is most certainly not a boring corner of the country. We may be Middle Districts but we are not middling, we incorporate the best of each end and a whole lot more as well.  More on Tui later.


You will be visiting one of the oldest NZFFA branches in the country, with Middle Districts having been established in 1956.  The Tararua branch, established in 1959, as Southern Hawkes Bay, amalgamated with Middle Districts in 2010 giving the branch coast to coast coverage,  essentially the same boundaries as the local Horizons Regional Council.  Farm forestry has a long and proud history throughout the region, with some notable farm forestry figures. 


The theme for the 2017 Conference is “The challenge of diverse landforms”, reflecting the variety of landforms on which trees and forestry play important, even critical roles.  The landforms of the Manawatu/Whanganui region, including  Tararua and Horowhenua, range from rugged axial ranges of the Ruahines and Tararuas through some very good hill country on relatively fertile mudstones, some more difficult hill country on highly erodible unconsolidated sands in the west and argillite on the east coast, to the fertile and very versatile terrace and flood plain land.  Another distinctive landform is the 100,000 ha of wind formed sand dune country along the west coast.


Trees and farm forestry are important on all these landforms.  The sand country has a long history of afforestation for sand stabilization and farm forestry extending back to the 19th century.  The very coastal strip is mostly in protection/production forestry protecting the more inland areas.


The highly erodible hill country has been recognised as needing more tree cover for soil conservation since the Catchment Boards were established in the late 1940s.  More recently, in the wake of the flooding and erosion damage of the 2004 floods, Horizons Regional Council established the Sustainable Land Use Initiative, (SLUI), with one key role being more afforestation of the highly erodible, class 7 hill country.


Aerial photograph 1949 of local sand
country showing land forms
Aerial photograph 2003 of Rangitoto showing what farm foresters can do to sand country


Iconic rivers – the terraces and cliffs of the Rangitikei River tell a story of erosion, uplift and changing climate.


Needless to add, the Manuka honey rush has reached the region, with all the spin-off effects.


But farm forestry has been much more than just a soil conservation measure; it has also been a “nice little earner”.  Numerous farm foresters can attest to the commercial value of forestry blocks on the hills, the sand and the terrace country.  This is not new.  In  1963 a Massey University masters thesis, “An Economic Comparison of Forestry and Agriculture” by A. H. Chisholm, demonstrated the superior returns from forestry compared to other farming operations on the drier soils of the coastal sand country.


And it is not all radiata pine.  Cypresses thrive throughout the region, there are magnificent  old redwoods that have given growers, including the NZ Redwood Co., the confidence to establish a sizeable redwood resource.  Many of the high quality eucalypt species are also being grown with considerable success.


The 2017 Conference will be based in Feilding over the four days, Thursday April 6th to Sunday 9th  with an optional fifth day on Monday 10th.


The erosion evident on these slopes can be an ever-present threat to good, hill country terraces.


Thursday 6th April will include the Branch Management, Council and Annual General meetings in the morning  with the business session in the afternoon.  Some of the business session will be covering familiar territory but two presentations are especially notable, and novel.  One will be a talk on mycorrhizal fungi in forestry by emeritus Professor James Trappe and Todd Elliot from Oregon State University.  The other is a presentation by high profile, primary industries commentator, Ian Proudfoot, from KPMG. The exact programme is still being developed, but will include talks by Scion, Forest Owners Assn. and Forest Levy Trust representatives as well as information on the local geology plus the Horizons Regional Council’s work to mitigate erosion problems with afforestation and better land management.


For those who would prefer looking at trees to meetings and talks, a bus trip round northern Manawatu parks, gardens and plantings will be available.


The opening dinner will be held on the Thursday evening.


Friday 7th April will start with Action Group meetings. In the case of the Sequoia and Cypress groups we are planning to “banish” them to the NZ Redwood Co’s  Ohutu forest near Hunterville, leaving at 10.00 a.m.  While mostly redwoods this forest also includes cypress stands and eucalypt trials.  The Sequoia and Cypress groups may choose this site for their action groups meetings.  The main conference party will also leave at 10.00 a.m. to visit the Williamson and Dermer farm forestry operations.  These properties on fertile terrace country close to Feilding both have a wide variety of species and plantings, with the Dermer property having won the Nth Island Farm Forester of the Year award in 2014.


The awards dinner will be held on Friday evening.


Sand country today – regarded by some as ideal farm forestry country.


Saturday 8th April will feature the coastal sand country.  The first visit will be to the Santoft coastal protection/production forest to look at foredune management and production forestry on land that 60 years ago was raw, drifting sand.  This is mostly State forest with Ernslaw One having cutting rights.  Some areas have been returned to local Iwi.


We will then move on to the adjacent Dalrymple property, Waitatapia.  This is a large, mainly sand country, cropping and finishing property, notable for extensive irrigation and high tech land management. 


But forestry still plays a major role on the property.  This property provides an excellent case study in evolving land use and the role of forestry.


During the afternoon the alternative species enthusiasts will move to Denis Hocking’s nearby Rangitoto farm.  This property on the bigger, higher, more inland “Foxton phase” dunes has a wide diversity of alternative species including mature stands of cypresses and various eucalypts.   The rest of the conferees will see more of the Dalrymple property before catching up with the alternative species group at the Hocking property.


Sunday 9th April will feature a trip through very different land forms, including country that few visitors get to see.  We will travel through the superb Kiwitea country to view the spectacular, even awesome, gully erosion of nearby Goulter’s Gully.  From there the party will travel down Ridge road on the western side of the Pohangina valley viewing the severe erosion and remedial afforestation, including a lot of SLUI plantings, that has been undertaken in a production/protection role.  We will have Regional Council personnel and geologists from Massey to explain what is going on.


The peace and serenity of the Pohangina valley, north of Ashhurst, belies the instability of the surrounding hills.


From there it will be over the Saddle road, just north of the Manawatu Gorge, with a stop at the wind farm and then on to Murray’s Nursery.  This long established forestry nursery is now owned and managed by Patrick, a second generation Murray.  He has adopted a very high tech approach to seedling production and in particular, is trying to reduce fungicide use to enhance mycorrhizal levels in seedlings.  This will bring our American guests back into discussions and promises to be a very informative afternoon.


I said we would be coming back to Tui, and so we will.  The Sunday evening dinner will be at the iconic Tui brewery at nearby Mangatainoka.


Monday 10th April.  Officially the Conference will end on Sunday night but we have planned a trip to Whanganui for the Monday.  The main feature will be steepland harvesting in one of the Whanganui hill country forests, but there will be an alternative trip to the protected indigenous forest of Bushy Park and some of the other notable parks and plantings round Whanganui.  There will be the option of an early return to Feilding or the airport for people wanting to leave during Monday afternoon


Workplan for harvesting demonstration >>


As mentioned earlier, the conference will be based in Feilding, which is very handy to Palmerston Nth and especially the airport.  Feilding is a neat little town, notable for its saleyards – the biggest in the southern hemisphere – and its Friday farmers’ market.  We are working hard at keeping costs down and in terms of value for money, we are confident that it will be as good, or better, than any NZFFA Conference you have attended.  We look forward to hosting you next April.

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