Foresters grow from strength to strength

Last updated 06:41 16/05/2014

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John Dermer says he used to love trees that grew fast; now the slower growing oaks are among his favourites.

"I won't be around to see them come to maturity, but that doesn't worry me."

Diny Dermer says she loves fruit trees which are planted around the couple's 461-hectare farm at Cheltenham, near Feilding. A favourite of hers is the swamp cypress, a conifer with "elbows" - branches that grow out the side.

"When we were first married I planted lots of camellias. I went mad on them. Now I have the odd one only," she says.

Both the Dermers love their trees, and it shows.

A trip around the farm shows them off - the eucalyptus, the cypresses, the rows of oaks, the pinus radiata, macrocarpas and many more.

There are wetlands, a passion of John Dermer's. He is a member of Ducks Unlimited and encourages water birds to their property. Ducks and black swans are in residence at one planted dam. Diny says there are dams and planted wetlands all over the farm.

"That's John's latest passion."

There is also a shooting range.

Diny says travelling around the country is interesting for both of them, and they gaze out the window to see what trees are planted in different locations.

Back home, Dermer wages war on stoats, possums and rats. He has just bought three state-of-the-art traps.

And there are older pest traps all over the property.

The Dermer property is third generation - bought by John Dermer's grandfather. It finishes cattle (bulls) and sheep as well as growing crops. The Dermers think about their stock each day, rather than getting up and thinking about the trees.

About 10 hectares is planted in trees for production - pinus radiata, lusitanicas, as well as redwoods.

"The trees are in the places it is hard to muster, and wasteland. More people should plant trees. It makes economic sense to plant where you can't muster or on poor land, or where you can't put stock easily," says John Dermer.

The trees on the farm are of different ages. Some pines have just been milled.

There is a North Island Farm Forester of the Year, and one for the South Island.

The Dermers triumphed this year in the north.

The North Island competition started in 1978, with renowned farm forester and supporter of trees on farms, Neil Barr.

The winner gets a Husqvarna chainsaw. The men used to get a chainsaw, and the women a vacuum cleaner.

Dermer says winners are judged on different factors, including how well planted their trees are and how well managed.

People are also tested on their tree knowledge.

It was unlikely to go to a "scruffy" farm forestry operation - so pruning and cleaning up is a necessity.

"Then there is service to the Farm Forestry Association and the community. All of those factors are taken into account," he says.

Middle Districts, the association which the Dermers belong to, is well represented on the winners' trophy.

Judge for 2014 Angus Gordon says the Dermers' property stood out.

"Trees, cereal cash crops, bull finishing, lamb finishing and a small ewe breeding flock has been integrated so seamlessly into a very smart farming system."

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He says the property has a reasonably substantial radiata pine resource, some of which has just been harvested, as well as a component of cypress, redwood and eucalyptus all planted on land that would be difficult to effectively farm without a high additional cost in terms of money, time and human resources.

Gordon says the logical change in land use along the riparian corridors, as well as around wetlands and springs has strengthened the cash crop and farming business and added another layer of income stream.

"John and his wife, Diny, took the initiative to start planting out difficult and dangerous little corners of their property well before they joined the New Zealand Farm Forestry Association and have continued in this regard at a steady pace."

Gordon says there is little space left on the property for any more woodlots and barely any more paddocks in need of shelter.

Trees make the farm sheltered, they look good and they bring bird life.

It is a windy Manawatu day when Fairfax Media visits, but on most parts of the farm - it is calm, with the fully grown trees providing protection.

A fantail flutters around the farm bike. "We get tui singing all year here, I think they come for the eucalyptus nitens," says Dermer.

"It was like we lit a match when we started planting. We carried on. There are trees here that we think were here when my grandfather came to this farm." He took it over in 1909.

Dermer's grandfather ran a southdown stud, a romney stud and a jersey stud. He had eight people working on the farm, but no big machinery that helps many farmers today. Running studs and farms was a labour intensive job. Now the Dermers use only casual labour.

There is a row of old oaks, out in a paddock. It cannot have been a driveway, only going to an old piggery, Dermer says. They have no idea what the oaks were planted for and they are old.

They love them just the same and the avenue of oaks is something special. Dermer has planted younger oaks nearby, collecting acorns from around the country.

Dermer is quick to sing the praises of his wife. She helped plant many trees and works in the sheep yards.

"We have been here for 40 years." Rusty Firth was the Dermers' farm adviser and he suggested fencing off corners and planting trees.

That was the beginning of farm forestry for the Dermers and they have gone from strength to strength.

- Manawatu Standard

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