A farmer way up the Waitōtara Valley plans to get carbon credits from his poplars and is planting mānuka and using cattle to open up the ground for regenerating native bush.

Diversifying appeals to Roger Pearce, who has been farming in Makakaho Rd for four years. His land is becoming a patchwork of bush, closely planted poplars, mānuka, pasture and green feed crops.

"I like the idea, and the overall picture, where it's going for the long term - not just intensively farming livestock," he said.

He took up a hill country block in Makakaho Rd in 2013, and added to it by buying the family farm in 2016. He and his partner have been working hard on a big range of projects.

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In 2016 they entered Taranaki Regional Council's South Taranaki and Regional Erosion Support Scheme (STRESS). They planted 200 poplar poles on steep and erosion prone land in the first winter, and 500 in the second.

To be part of New Zealand's Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) poplars have to be planted at a high rate per hectare, giving at least 30 per cent canopy cover. At that spacing there's still grass underneath for stock to graze.

After four years Pearce will be able to claim carbon credits from the trees, and the credits will stack up fast until the trees reach about 20 years old and their growth slows.

"With poplars being fast growing you get early good returns. The flip side is they do start to wind down, in year 20 to 25."

The trees will hold on to top soil and in droughts he'll be able to cut off branches for stock feed.

The 3m poplar poles are subsidised and cost him $7 each. They need sleeves and are labour intensive to plant. He can't have cattle in with them for their first year. He's not planning to prune them, and said any branches that blow off will soon rot.

His farm also has some pine blocks, which are already registered for credits in the ETS. It's all part of a long term plan, and carbon prices are expected to rise from the current $21 per tonne.

The land also has regenerating mānuka. He's added to that by planting another 50ha of a variety that flowers earlier, to extend the honey harvest season.

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He started by having share hives on the land, but has progressed to owning his own hives and employing a part-time beekeeper. Most hives get moved closer to town in winter, but he's experimenting by keeping some of his on the land for the winter months.

At least half of the Pearce farm is very steep. Photo / supplied
At least half of the Pearce farm is very steep. Photo / supplied

Other parts of his farm are in regenerating native bush. He likes the look of that, as well as the way it provides habitat for birds and holds on to topsoil. He's aiming for total reversion in some places, and partial reversion in others.

The main pests on the place are goats, and he encourages hunters to come and shoot goats and deer. There's a farmhouse and converted woolshed that can be used for accommodation. In future he could get an income from hosting hunters.

"City people love it, and they can take some meat away."

Even after taking 100ha out of grazing, Pearce hasn't had to reduce stock numbers because stock get extra food from green feed crops grown on its flat areas.

He has an unusually high ratio of cattle to sheep - 60:40. The heavy cattle are being used to open up the ground during wet weather in winter, making space for regenerating mānuka and other native plants.

PEARCE FARM
+ in Makakaho Rd at the top of the Waitōtara Valley
+ 2000ha, with 1500 grazed
+ mix of very steep, easier and cultivatable land
+ badly slipped and flooded in June 2015