Radiata pine on farms
Radiata pine (Pinus radiata) is the most common tree planted on farmland. It gained popularity as a windbreak tree because it grows fast and can survive on a range of soil types. Its useful life as a shelterbelt tree is around 50 years.
The timber qualities of radiata pine (formerly known as insignis pine) were not appreciated in the first decades of settlement. J. Baber wrote in 1886: ‘[T]he Insignis, so much planted for its beauty and quick growth is useless, save for firewood.’ 1
If left untended, old radiata develop into 50-metre-tall, multi-branched giants, and can be hazardous to stock and farm property during storms.
Radiata pine is the most popular tree in farm forests in New Zealand. Farm forestry spans a continuum of land uses, including:
- the conversion of an entire farm to a productive forest
- one or more small forests or woodlots on part of a farm
- agroforestry, where animals graze alongside widely spaced trees.
Although some farmers had grown woodlots of radiata pine since the 1860s, it was not until the 1960s, following the formation of the New Zealand Farm Forestry Association, that radiata was seriously promoted as a timber crop for farmers. Through the 1960s and 1970s members of the association investigated combining pine forestry with their farming operations. Well-managed plantations proved economic on marginal hill country land.
There was significant planting of pines on steep hill country farmland in the early 1990s, but this planting boom was short-lived as log prices dropped soon after.
In the early 2000s farmers responded to the dramatic increase in dairy product prices by converting forestry blocks on gently sloping land to dairy pasture. By 2007, thousands of hectares of radiata farm forest in the Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Southland and Canterbury were back in pasture.
Agroforestry became popular in the 1970s. In theory, growing a tree crop on land that is also grazed by stock seems to be an efficient way to use land. In practice, agroforestry with radiata pine proved uneconomic. To make sure there is enough good-quality pasture for stock, agroforestry sites need to be moderately fertile and trees need to be widely spaced. Under these conditions radiata pine grows fast, but not tall. Its timber is of a lower density than plantation-grown radiata, and therefore is worth less.
Radiata pine has been the preferred species planted on steep eroding hill country.