Miraka Farm - Waikato

Miraka Farm - Waikato

Waikato dairy farmer Graham Smith has heard it all over the years when it comes to the size of his herd.
“You have 80 cows – what do you do all day then?”
“Well, I tend to my trees, of course!” Graham says.

On what was originally just a punt on some root cuttings he could purchase for $250 back in 1992, Graham and wife Tess were seasoned ‘give it a go’ types and figured they would see what could happen with the relatively unknown variety of Paulownia trees.

Decades later, the couple couldn’t be happier with the result.

Paulownia trees are, next to Balsa, the world’s lightest wood, yet has an incredible strength making them ideal for surfboards, waka, boats, and so much more. Highly sought after in Asia, the trees are still relatively unheard of in New Zealand, although their reputation is growing fast – just like the tree itself.
“Paulownia trees grow to maturity in just on 10 years so I thought I would give it a go – I planted it, and it grew very well. My neighbour saw this and bought some too and they failed to grow. We just seem to have the right make up of land and environment for them,” Graham says.

Miraka Farm - Waikato

His rocky, steep farmland in Korakanui, 25 minutes South East of Te Awamutu provided the right level of windbreak for the trees, enabling Graham to plant them on the 10ha of flats nearer his home and milking shed.

And as the trees grew, so did Graham’s appreciation of all that they can offer.

“They are the fastest carbon accumulating tree in the world. They have so many uses. They can even grow again from a stump,” he says.

During its flowering season in spring, hundreds of vivid purple flowers bloom and the cows love them – creating an alternate feed source for Graham.
“The whole farm gets covered in these purple tubular flowers – and they bring with them the tūī and bees for their nectar. The trees also create great shade cover for the cows, you never see my cows trying to cram into a little shade as there is plenty for them to share,” he says.

And the trees keep giving – literally. When they shed their leaves, Graham is getting 10 tonne of leaves per hectare which he is trialling making silage out of.
The trees also help control nutrients deeper in the soil. All round, the trees are an environmental superhero!

Between the dairy income, the income from wood produced by the trees and the carbon credits he gains from the trees, Graham and Tess have created an ideal triple bottom line which not only helps their farm but also their succession planning.

“We have enough income from our property to bring in another family member to help run it now. I am getting older and want to ensure the future of the farm. The trees have enabled us to do that.”

Graham admits, it has all been a learning curve.
“At the beginning, I knew nothing about trees. We tried different types and it was these ones that have worked so well for us. These days I am a member of the NZ Farm Forestry Association which has taught me a lot.”

Why only 80 cows?

Less cows means less environmental impact – Graham says. Plus, it gives him the time to tend to his trees and create the right balance for his farm.
“Everyone is different and for me, this size herd helps me achieve what is needed and I can look after my animals while making sure my land is looked after too.”

Fast facts:

Miraka farm is 37 ha.
Dairy farming with a herd of 80 crossbreed cows.
2015 NZ Landcare Trust Sustainable Farm Forestry award.
2020 Husqvarna North Island Farm Foresters of the Year Award.
One of NZ’s only Paulownia growers.
Members of the NZ Farm Forestry Association

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