An extraordinarily hot summer – and predictions that with climate change we may have more of them - has prompted plenty of farmers to think more about whether they have enough shade for their livestock.

New Zealand has a deserved reputation for high standards of animal welfare and with the world's consumers increasingly attuned to their food's production story – particularly in regard to environmental impacts and care for animals – the usefulness of trees for summer shade and winter shelter deserves regular review.

Many thousands of farmers have planted willows and poplars to stabilise hill country and river banks, and riparian strips to protect waterways and wetlands. As they'll tell you, trees create a more pleasant environment for man and beast, enhance biodiversity, prevent erosion, improve water quality and land value. Trees can also reduce moisture loss from pasture.

If only more of this planting was recognised in terms of carbon credits another substantial incentive and advantage would be realised.

Advertisement

It's not an inconsequential investment for farmers. Sections of productive paddocks may have to be fenced off for several years while saplings grow to a size that they can withstand the attentions of cattle and pests, though protective sleeves can be used in some circumstances.

Mature grazing animals are generally very well adapted to maintain a comfortable body temperature regardless of the weather but there is no doubt trees can mitigate the extremes of heat and cold, rain and wind – especially for young animals, during lambing or calving.

Optimum benefits come from taking a well-planned approach. Planting should happen over autumn/winter as saplings would likely die of moisture stress if put in the ground now.

There is plenty of information available on best placement, types of plantings and maintenance for different stages of the life cycle of trees. Beef + Lamb NZ has a particularly informative and practical Fact Sheet on its website.

The majority of farmers are well aware of the advantages – and downsides - of trees and shelter belts. But there are certainly some who could do well to consider the wider benefits of tree planting, and for them there's an apt and age-old saying: "The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the next best time is today."

Chris Allen is Federated Farmers' Environment Spokesman. Views expressed here are the writer's opinion and not the newspaper's. Email: editor@hbtoday.co.nz