Episode 1 - Tree Hugger
On the next episode, screening 18 February 2018 at 7pm on TVNZ 1:
Graham Smith has been rising early to milk cows for most of his life. The 62-year-old dairy farmer runs his 37-hectare property Miraka just south of Te Awamutu.
He only milks 78 cows each day, but these are enough to provide the bulk of his income.
Graham says he’s always loved farming dairy cows; he enjoys the way they encourage him to do more. Each day the milk tanker comes and he sees whether his output has improved and he can constantly tweak his farming in order to keep things on the up.
Graham came to the farm in 1987 with his first wife. They’d been share-milking a herd of over 400 cows, and were keen to have fewer staff and stock hassles.
They knew if they worked a small herd smartly they’d be able to do well out of the pint-sized property.
This all changed in the year 2000 when the couple split up. Graham was desperate to stay on the land but to do so he would have to purchase his wife’s share from her. He accepted this, but it proved impossible to find a bank willing to lend him the money.
In the end he had to take a loan from a private mortgage company at stricter terms than conventional banks. If he ever missed a monthly repayment they would take his farm away.
It was in this stressful climate that Graham started to think about additional income streams to augment the dairy business.
Before the marital split he’d learned of Paulownia trees, which are very fast growing and could be milled at 15 to 17 years of age. He’d taken a big punt on the trees planting a great number on the property. But when they were ready to be felled there was no market for them, so Graham set up his own website to market them directly.
To do this he had to learn how to use a computer for the first time. He jokes that “an old dog can learn a new trick if they are willing, and if your back is against the wall financially that makes you even more willing”.
After years of trial and error Graham is now an extremely proficient one-man forestry business. His Paulownianz.co.nz website is now the first hit on Google searches for the timber in New Zealand.
Another change Graham made after his divorce was learning to dance. It was at these Ceroc dancing lessons in Hamilton that he met his second wife Tess.
Together the couple also runs two more fruitful side-lines to the dairy business.
They collect and sell eggs from their flock of 30 ducks at $7 a dozen, the sales are going well and they hope to double their numbers this year.
They have also built a small lodge to offer accommodation to the many trout fishermen who frequent the neighbouring Mangatutu stream.
Some might see an irony in a dairy farmer prospering from the clean water that flows through his property. But Graham’s been a conservationist since 1989 when he first started planting trees.
In 2013 Miraka won a Balance Water Care Award, which acknowledged Graham’s work in protecting the Mangatutu.
Graham says that there are many other dairy farmers in the country who are similarly inclined. He sees cleaning all the water that leaves his farm as his responsibility - it’s an investment not a cost.
Read more about Graham’s Paulownia timber here
Read more about Graham and Tess’s cottage here
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