River at heart of traditional family farm

21:20, May 28 2014
Rising 20-month cattle on Peter and Jane Evans' Alpine Farm at Pareora Gorge.
HEALTHY STOCK: Rising 20-month cattle on Peter and Jane Evans' Alpine Farm at Pareora Gorge.

Peter and Jane Evans aim for their traditional sheep and beef farm to be farmed sustainably, and to turn a profit.

They have met these goals with more than $300,000 invested in farm forestry since the 1990s, ongoing purchases of neighbouring farms, and plans for more irrigation.

This year they won the Landcare Trust award for innovation in sustainable farm forestry.

Peter and Jane Evans of Pareora Gorge, South Canterbury.
WINNING COMBINATION: Peter and Jane Evans of Pareora Gorge, South Canterbury. They have won the Landcare Trust Award for innovation in sustainable farm forestry.

The award was made at the Farm Forestry Association conference recently in Marlborough, and recognises their balanced farm management of a productive unit while enhancing the environment and protecting its natural features.

The 1050 hectare farm has about 80ha of pines, 6ha of macrocarpa, and 10ha of other mixed species including poplar and Douglas fir.

The Pareora River runs for six kilometres through the Evans' property, Alpine Farm, and it is the river's health that is central to the family's management.


The Pareora River running through buffer zones of trees and grass on Peter and Jane Evans' farm.
RIVER PROTECTION: The Pareora River running through buffer zones of trees and grass on Peter and Jane Evans' farm.

The river is almost entirely fenced off, with natural buffer zones of trees, scrub and grass to prevent run-off.

"The river is an important feature of the farm and the wider district," Peter said. "We would like people to continue picnicking and enjoying it.

"We want to have a profitable farm, and the thing is to get the balance right. We're trying to sustain the quality of the river or improve it. Fencing off is the best way."

Their three children grew up enjoying a swim at the river on hot days after school, and have added their touches to the environment - a home-made pizza oven on the riverbank, and a flying fox across the water.

Peter's great-grandfather, Ben Evans, was the first in South Canterbury to plant willows in the river to stabilise the banks and channel the flow. Some of the trees are still doing the job 120 years later.

Many oaks and beeches and other specimen trees were planted by earlier generations to mark events such as weddings, births, and Queen Victoria's golden jubilee in 1887.

Peter is chairman of the South Canterbury branch of the NZ Farm Forestry Association, and he and Jane credit farm forestry field days - along with family tradition - with providing ideas and inspiration for their ongoing tree planting.

Peter's great grandfather, Ben Evans, bought 80ha here in 1875. The story goes that he looked at it by moonlight, as he didn't want the neighbouring farmers to know it was available.

The family added more land with the purchase of Mt Misery in 1915. In the 1990s the Evans bought another neighbouring block of land, Mt Horrible, and with it, a gorse problem.

A farm forestry field day in Cheviot provided the solution - large plantations of pine on hill country. Poplars are used to stabilise slip-prone country, and this planting is ongoing.

"The worst areas of gorse are now planted in pine trees, and we spot spray what's left. Once you plant the trees that's it - it's another source of income, and diversification."

Farm timber is also used for building on the property - macrocarpa was used for the house, and the workshop is built out of poplar.

Their emphasis is now on native trees and shrubs.

"We're fencing off more springs and wetlands, and planting what grows here naturally."

Consultant Hugh Thompson grows seedlings from the area and returns them for planting. They've also planted plenty of kowhai, which they hope will attract tui back to the area.

"We've done a bit of a reversal here - my father and grandfather would go around with a box of matches in the spring and burn all the long grass to encourage new growth, but that would give the native bush a fair hurry up.

"With subdivision and fencing and rotational grazing we control the grass, and we don't need the burn. This allows the bush to regenerate too."

The Timaru Herald