OPINION: People need to get their knives out of farmers’ backs and look at the science.
The study, 'Evaluation of an agri-environmental program for developing woody green infrastructure within pastoral dairy landscapes: a New Zealand case study,' says Government incentive schemes are ineffective in overcoming barriers to planting such as the higher cost and slow growth of native plants, and the perception of planting being of little direct benefit to farmers' operations.
The lead author, Lincoln University landscape ecology senior lecturer Dr Wendy McWilliam, says the Government and the dairy industry need to work together to develop and maintain a landscape-scaled woody vegetation network on private and public land.
Such networks would build sustainability and resilience into New Zealand dairy farming and lead to a more equitable sharing of the benefits and costs of their primarily public ecosystem services.
The study's results show few farmers take advantage of Government incentives, largely because they don't cover enough of the costs.
Many farmers are increasing woody vegetation, particularly around waterways and wetlands, to provide public ecosystem services, such as water cleansing and nature conservation. However, many are also removing or replanting their shelterbelts and hedges.
In addition, many farmers are not planting due to their perceived lack of sufficient 'private ecosystem services' — the benefits the woody vegetation provides to farmers and their farm operations.
The study says a targeted environmental stewardship scheme, including more Government funding, is required to overcome the "considerable barriers to the voluntary retention and restoration of woody vegetation".
The study found plantings are small, limited to unproductive areas, and many continue to be dominated by exotics and monocultures, even though natives, broadleaf and mixed species plantings are preferred.
Aesthetic services (enhancing the look of the farm), and speed and ease of growth, maintenance and low costs are significant factors in plant selection.
Key barriers include insufficient private ecosystem services of woody vegetation, particularly those related to dairy production, relative to other land uses; poor aesthetic services of some plantings; and low rates of growth and higher maintenance and purchasing costs of native plants.
McWilliam says farmers may also be motivated by stronger evidence in support of valued ecosystem services, their benefits and drawbacks, and information on how to support ecosystem services through planting design and management through time.