The owners of a South Taranaki dairy farm will try an experimental timber and honey crop on less valuable parts of their farm.
Neil and Helen Walker and family own a dairy farm at Manutahi, between Hawera and Patea. They have applied for a Callaghan Innovation Research & Development Project grant to plant 1.5ha in native rewarewa trees, for eventual timber and honey production.
Callaghan Innovation has approved the grant and given 40 per cent of what they asked - just over $40,000.
The 500 trees will be planted this season, with more to follow if the experiment is successful. Dr David Bergin, of Environmental Restoration Ltd, will advise on establishment.
Neil Walker says rewarewa trees flower prolifically for three weeks a year in most years, and their honey is "boutique" and sought after. It can fetch $40 a kg.
Because the trees will be in mainly grassland and because bees prefer the sweeter rewarewa nectar to clover, the honey will be single source and monofloral, attracting higher prices.
Whanganui's Johann Ander, of Yobees, will handle the honey side. Walker says about 100 hives may be filled from the 500 trees.
In 50 years, if the Walkers have the appropriate licence, the native trees can be milled for timber. Rewarewa wood has an attractive speckled grain that is prized.
The trees can be grown in gullies and other parts of the farm less suitable for dairy grazing.
If the experiment is successful the Walkers will share the techniques with other dairy farmers. Neil Walker said it could be a welcome addition to dairy income in years with poor weather or prices.
Taranaki Regional Council and the Parininihi ki Waitotara Incorporation will both follow the trial with interest. Callaghan Innovation expects quarterly reports on progress.
Groves of rewarewa on hill country with mānuka would not work in the same way, Walker said, because bees preferred the rewarewa nectar to mānuka nectar and the honey would be from mixed sources and less valuable than pure mānuka.
Rewarewa honey is said to have similar values to mānuka honey. Research into it, and other native honeys, is ongoing.