Understory cropping may add flavour to forestry

For Immediate Release
9 December 2013

Rotorua based Crown Research Institute Scion is currently working with Maori Investments Ltd in Kawerau to explore opportunities to increase the revenue from planted forests in the Bay of Plenty region.

Better utilisation of forested land in the area by growing shade tolerant cash crops beneath the radiata pines could provide earlier financial returns for forest growers along with employment and social benefits to local communities.

Scion project leader Marie Heaphy and resource economist Dr Richard Yao have analysed crops for site suitability, potential market and economic return.

“At present, most plantation forests in New Zealand are underutilised,” says Ms Heaphy. “We have identified a range of shade tolerant plants that are viable for production cropping following pruning and thinning of the pines in the Tarawera Forest area. It’s possible they may also grow well in other forestry plantations in the region.

“Several species have small but growing markets in New Zealand and internationally.”

Scientists are now focusing their research on goldenseal, the root of which is used in herbal preparations, and two indigenous species, kawakawa and pate. The market for kawakawa is growing locally and overseas for culinary, medicinal and cosmetic purposes. Two of the species investigated returned a positive net present value from one hectare of land.

Exotic forestry accounts for about 16 per cent of land in the Bay of Plenty region. Better utilisation of land that is suitable for understory cropping may help reduce the region’s high unemployment rate, which was recorded as being 8 per cent during the first three months of this year.

Ms Heaphy goes on to say there is vast potential to exploit the more arable areas of existing and future plantation forest mid-rotation, expanding existing markets while creating new opportunities.