Farm Forestry at Kahotea

April 2015

Hugh and Di McBain have planted and harvested trees on their property for many years

Hugh and Di McBain won the 2014 Hawke’s Bay Farm Forester of the Year award, sponsored by Pan Pac Forest Products and organised by the HB Farm Forestry Association. Hugh has planted, managed and harvested trees for over 40 years on the 300ha McBain family farm, Kahotea, at Te Aute, and at historic Langton house nearby. Over 140 different tree species have been planted on Kahotea. The family has been involved with this land since 1842, Hugh being the fifth generation and Miles the sixth. Kahotea ownership passed to Miles and his wife Megan on July 1, a succession made possible by Miles contracting business and Megan’s landscape architecture.

Kahotea Farm is the McBain family property at Te Aute, Hawke’s Bay, which stretches back to 1842 in family ownership. When fifth generation Hugh began farming there on his own account 40 years ago, the landscape was bare hills and flats in a summer-dry region receiving only 800mm rainfall annually. The 300ha property has 110ha of Poukawa peat loam and 190ha of Crownthorpe sandy loam soils. It is a cropping and livestock finishing property growing wheat, peas, barley, ryegrass seed, sweetcorn and squash, finishing 2500-3000 lambs over winter and 200 R2 and R3 Friesian bulls, growing them from 400kg LW to around 620kg LW.

Hugh has used trees for many purposes – timber production on particularly hard sites, shelter, shading stock yards and for aesthetics. He has changed the landscape to a mosaic of trees, pasture and intensive cropping.

Kahotea has three production woodlots which were planted in Pinus radiata in 1987 (4ha), 1992 (8ha) and 1997 (5ha).  It also has a 0.5ha Cupressus macrocarpa woodlot in the HB Farm Forestry Association trial, planted in 1991. Although the best types were selected at the time, they have still developed cankers, rendering them no good for fine timber milling, and only good for firewood.

A 0.25ha Acacia melanoxylon (Australian Blackwood) area makes up the production units. It is being grown for timber.

Pine, Poplar, Alnus and two types of Cypress have been used as shelter belts, most planted in the 1980s and 90s.

Hugh McBain keeps a Kahotea and Langton tree register for the shade and amenity plantings, consisting of the species, variety, common name, location, plant date and the country of origin. Included are fir, blackwood, wattle, maple, sycamore, chestnut, birch, silver birch, flame, mulberry, deodar, cedar, camphor laurel, gums, ash, ginkgo, walnut, coffee, juniper, larch, redwood, olive, spruce, pistachio, plane, cottonwood, cherry, laurel, black locust, willow, yew and elm.

Langton House also has a wide range of indigenous species while the Kahotea garden has a range of fruit and nut trees.

Hugh commented that his early enthusiasm for poplars and willows has cooled because of the widespread damage and litter after storms hit mature trees. “They are good to get tree establishment going, but 30-40 years later I wouldn’t be using as many.”

Kahotea Farm has passed to Miles and Megan McBain, son and daughter-in-law of Hugh McBain. Grand-daughter Lucy, still a baby, will be the seventh generation on Kahotea. Miles and Megan have been encouraged to continue on with the farm forestry. “Combining trees with pastoral productivity will increasingly be an asset when marketing high quality product,” Hugh said. That is a reference to quality assurance schemes run by meat and wool companies, when shade and shelter for livestock is stipulated.

The judges of the Pan Pac award commented on the farm succession plan. Succession is only possible by running the farm in conjunction with Miles’s contracting business and Megan’s landscape architecture business. During the valuation process for selling the farm to Miles and Megan (Miles has both a sister and another brother), the plantations were valued and the cutting rights were retained by Hugh and Di. “It is a tool for farm succession as the value of the timber at maturity can be separated from the rest of the farm value if needed,” Hugh said. If the Ruataniwha dam goes ahead Kahotea will receive water and Miles will have options for more specialised crops.

His own cropping experience was partly gained by working NZ winters in the UK. When he returned to Kahotea full-time, there was an opportunity to contract for squash sowing, fertilising and weeding for a big neighbouring enterprise where 800ha of squash are grown. Miles was able to finance machinery and establish a contracting business that employs two or three people at the height of the season.

Megan works with local councils and schools and projects like the Pekapeka wetland. She is trained in tree species selection and placement.

Hugh noted that his great grandfather in the 1880s was one of the pioneers who drained a 1400ha swamp in the Otane district that now contains Kahotea, the Brownrigg farms and another neighbour, the Ritchie farming family. All of these properties are now partially cropped.