Turning pasture to pine for future generations

Viv Barr addressing a gathering of advisors, with Bay of Plenty Farm Forestry Association’s chair Graham West looking over notes.

It’s more than 800 hectares of rolling hills that functioned as pasture out in Manawahe, and it’s now co-owned by Viv Barr and Robin Barkla.

But the time has come for Viv to sell part of her stake in the pasture and turn a small section from pasture to lush pine.

“In 2005 my husband Alan, or ‘AJ’, and I went into an equity partnership and bought more than 900ha of land here under four titles with two other couples, so there were six of us in the partnership,” says Viv. “We named the land ‘Vista Farms’.

“The land was previously, a long time ago, used for drystock. It had been covered in pine since 1981.

“We quickly sold 68ha out of that 900-plus block, which was physically separated from the rest of the land,” says Viv.

“The partnership changed in the coming years, and in 2011 there were only three of us sharing Vista Farms – my husband, myself and Robin.

“In the first seven years the trees were felled, the land was cleared, fenced, water was put in for stock, yards were built and the grazing pasture was restored. Stock came on as dairy grazers and Vista Farms bought its own stock as well.”

But when tragedy struck in the form of her husband’s death in 2014, Viv decided it was time to take stock and look at her own options. “In 2014, leukemia took his life. He was 56.

“Robin and I have continued on with Vista Farms but I’ve taken a very backseat role – Robin is the person that does all the operations here.”

Viv has three children – one, she says, that is interested in farming and running the 110ha dairy farm 20km away, and two who have non-farming occupations and area “very happy about their brother being on a fourth generation dairy farm”.

The land that Viv co-owns with Robin will be split. Viv wants to hold on to about 112ha for herself, including 20ha of six-year-old pines and an additional 20ha of natives that will go into a QEII covenant, as well as a flat skid site at the top of the farm for a possible house site in future. And it’s no wonder she wants to hold on to it, with it’s vista views of Whale Island on one side, and the fantastic geothermal clouds of Kawerau on the other.

But the rest of the land? Well, Viv wants to turn about 50ha of her chunk of land into further radiata pines.

So the investigating into turning pasture to pine begins. “I want to keep Vista Farms in the family,” says Viv, “and create a valuable asset”.

If Viv does go ahead with her plan to plant pines, she has a few different options up her sleeve.

Heather Miller from Te Uru Rakau says the Labour Government’s One Billion Trees scheme could benefit Viv with it’s grants and year-round funding rounds.

There are a few different ways to go about getting funding through the One Billion Trees scheme, depending on what the land that you want to plant on is like, what trees you are planning to plant, and where the land is.

Carbon credits is another option for her to utilise in order to make her pines profitable. Jeff Tombleson of J.Tombleson and Associates advises that Viv wait until 2020 to begin planting her trees, and for good reason.

“For plantations established after January 1, 2020, an improved carbon accounting method called averaging is proposed that will approximately double the low risk carbon but can be claimed in the first rotation only,” says Jeff. This means the carbon payout for pine changes from January next year, providing legislation is passed as planned this year.

So Viv consulted with members of the Bay of Plenty Farm Forestry Association and is now weighing up her options.

But at the end of the day, her intentions are pure – for the future and for her family.

“I know how short life is now after losing my husband, so I do intend to be here for quite a while but what if I’m not? And how would the family dairy farm go forward to my son and successive generations, without creating off-farm investment now?”

“That’s the main reason I’m trying to do something here,” says Viv.


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