Farm forestry adds cash flow, drought diversity

Timber brings more than shade in this terrible drought

On Farm
Michael Taylor, The Hill, Kentucky, is making use of his father's foresight to generate diverse cashflow during this drought. But he says trees have more value growing up.

Michael Taylor, The Hill, Kentucky, is making use of his father's foresight to generate diverse cashflow during this drought. But he says trees have more value growing up.

Aa

Planting trees on the Salisbury Plains created more than shade, wind break and water retention at the Wright family farm near Walcha. Three decades late, in this terrible drought, they are providing cash flow through timber.

Aa

Desperate dry on the New England has prompted one wool producer to diversify his cashflow by cutting down shade trees planted more than 30 years ago and milling them into timber.

In a time when experts are advocating more trees, not less, regenerative farmer Michael Taylor, The Hill, at Kentucky is crediting the forward thinking of his own father, Jon, for investing in the future - through trees that not only generate resilient landscapes, but a sustainable side income.

Wide-spaced "engineered woodlands" planted along contour lines provide shade, wind protection and at maturity can earn a farmer $1100 for a pine log.

Along the way trees contribute to top soil organic matter, allowing rainfall to percolate.

Dead trees and branches also contribute to the health of a paddock, says Mr Taylor, advocating against fire as a tool for "cleaning up" a paddock, as nutrients are lost along with carbon.

This drought is changing the on-farm dynamic, and for the first time since 2014 Mr Taylor is feeding pregnant ewes. There is the increasing need for cash flow and diverse income streams - in spite of the fact that his family's wool clip continues to sell at a premium.

Planted trees were primarily deciduous hardwoods native to the Northern hemisphere, along with pine as wind breaks.

Engineered timber woodlands provide more than shade at The Hill. Photo Michael Taylor.

Engineered timber woodlands provide more than shade at The Hill. Photo Michael Taylor.

Three decades later, their shade and ground cover are currently sheltering vales of green pick in an otherwise arid landscape.

"Our journey has been over three generations but in the last decade there has been a groundswell in the industry of farmers that have recognised the need to take an alternative approach to high input versus output agriculture that hasn't maintained the healthy ecosystems which support production and social well-being," Mr Taylor said.

"One of the key outcomes in regenerative agriculture is to increase carbon stocks in the farm ecosystems that support healthy soils and improved water retention.

"This has to be balanced with production and social well-being to be considered truly regenerative."

Mr Taylor recently found himself part of the foundation round table discussion at the Regenerative Agriculture Alliance, held at Lismore's Southern Cross University.

He is now driving agro-forestry as a way to mitigate the cash flow drought while improving soil structure and on-farm production outcomes.

Recent fires have tested the resolve of farmers like Mr Taylor who says he will continue to maintain ground cover and litter loads to insulate soil health.

"Drought recovery is faster, social well-being and job satisfaction significantly higher when farming in this way," he said.

Meanwhile, a tree-led drought recovery might make sense in more ways than one.

"Agroforestry," he said," provides an integrated significant carbon bank beyond what can be sequestered in soils alone."

Aa

From the front page

Sponsored by