Larsen Farm Forester

June 2013
Dennis and Margaret Larsen, who have produced a valuable asset from years of tree planting, won the 2012 Husqvarna South Island Farm Foresters of the Year.

Ulleren is named after an area in the south of Norway where the Larsen family come from. It means "sheep on the side of a hill". NZ Farm Forestry Association president Ian Jackson said they had established significant plantings of well-tended commercial species on their rolling hill country farm which will provide a significant income stream in future.

Dennis and Margaret farm Ulleren, 611ha at Tuapeka Flat, seven minutes south of Lawrence. They bought the first 480ha with equity partner Murray Rose, who is a former Otago Central MP, in 1981, and added 130ha next door in 1993. There were no trees, only a bit of scrub on the farm at the start.

They farm medium to steep country, which has bony shallow soils, and most of the land lies to the north. The house is at 80m asl, and the top of the farm is just under 400m asl, offering tremendous views, but it is very exposed.

The farm gets 700mm of rain a year, heavy frosts in winter and droughts are common in summer. Ulleren runs 3000 to 4000 Perendale cross ewes and 1200 hogget replacements, as well as 50-70 18 month old cattle which are trading stock.

Dennis is originally from Taranaki, and he couldn't believe how barren Otago and the farm was when he first moved south.

Dennis says his starting point for planting trees was with the help of a 60% subsidy from the Otago Catchment Board to prevent tunnel gully soil erosion. Underground water flows cause slips and slumping in steep gullies because of fast run-off and trees help slow down the run-off.

They started with poplars and willows, planting in small areas and keeping the cattle out for five years. At the same time they were able to double the number of paddocks they farmed.

"One of the reasons I planted trees was I was shearing here one year in December and the sheep went out in the paddock and they were standing behind concrete posts to get shade. There was no shelter or shade, so with the Catchment Board's help I got a lot of trees in without losing grazing.

They started out planting 100 poles a year and soon moved up to planting 1000 a year.

Then when the Catchment Board funds ran out after about five years, they moved to planting woodlots rather than narrow shelterbelts. These were planted into steep gorse-covered gullies which were poor producers of grass for livestock.

Having the woodlots widely distributed around the farm gives good shelter to the livestock.

Despite returns over the last 30 years, the Larsens kept planting, although it was tough watching their overdraft climb as they planted in the bad years.

Now there are 92ha of production woodlots. On the property, there is 65ha radiata pine, 11ha Douglas fir, 10ha macrocarpa, 1.6ha larch, 3.4ha eucalyptus, 1ha alder, 10ha poplars and willows and 4ha manuka.

"The oldest block of pines was planted in 1985, and harvest will be two years down the track - that will be the first block to be harvested, and we are going through the planning process, including upgrading tracks in readiness for the harvest."

They have pruned all the radiata, macrocarpa and some Douglas fir to six metres, and tended them to a good standard. The trees show good form and growth rates.

"Because we have small areas planted, every tree has to count because of the cost of bringing equipment in to harvest. We have to be in the high-priced bracket as much as possible. A lot of companies are not pruning any more so that also gives us an advantage."

"Now we have 15% of the farm in trees. I don't intend planting more trees, except on the steep land which will be logged. This country wasn't grazing much anyway.

"I am in my 60's now, and I have only a few more years of farming left. We farm in partnership with an equity partner, and none of our three sons want to come back onto the farm."

As well as the valuable and significant income stream from the timber they have grown, they have registered their tree blocks under the Emissions Trading Scheme, and sold the resulting carbon credits.

This income has been used to pay off a major part of the farm mortgage.

The Milton-Lawrence Farm Forestry Discussion Group was started by the late John Edmonds, and it still meets monthly during winter and provides inspiration and knowledge to participants and the wider community. It has 10-12 members, and has six visits a year (so each member is visited every two years), as well as other field trips.

Dennis has been very involved with the South Otago Farm Forestry Association having been their treasurer for a number of years. The local branch organises field days each year where participants can learn from the experiences of others. It also has awards: the Peter and Pearl Moffat award, given to a member who is just underway with the establishment of trees, and the Vic Stephens Trophy for excellence in farm forestry in South Otago.