For brothers Antony and Matt Snodgrass, the COVID-19 pandemic triggered a positive change in both their lives, as they followed a new path that combined two of their passions – the environment and the outdoors.
Growing up on the family’s 650ha sheep and beef farm in Port Waikato, which has an area of QEII covenanted bush, they describe their upbringing as “very focused on the outdoors and outdoor pursuits”.
Pre-COVID, Antony, 30, was working as an industrial designer, designing aluminium trailer boats.
Matt, 26, was in the middle of his OE in Canada when his job planting pine trees ended with the onset of COVID. He returned to New Zealand early in the piece and found work planting trees.
It was Matt who sold it to Antony that this was something that the two of them could do together. From his observations in both Canada and here, he could see that there was a niche for an efficient crew to come in and provide a gold standard in native planting – and so began their business, Koroneiki Developments.
Covering the Waikato and the Bay of Plenty, the scope of the work is wide. From re-vegetating harvested pine forests, to working with farmers to fulfil their riparian obligations under Regional Council’s environment plans, planting shelter belts and native tree plantations for future generations.
“We aim to recreate what would have been there originally, as that is best suited for the land. It’s important to create an environment with a diverse food source where birds will come and drop seeds, and bees will pollinate the flowers,” says Antony.
Matt explains that re-vegetation done properly is a process that is carried out over multiple years.
“In neglected riparian margins, there is usually high rank grass rather than weeds, so spot spraying a 40 centimetre diameter area for each seedling means the remaining grass will hold moisture and maintain the soil’s microclimate and worm life, rather than leaving expanses of dry soil open to erosion.
“Grass also offers some protection from weather and camouflages the seedling from introduced pests, such as rabbits and hares, which love native seedlings.
“However, on old forestry blocks, there are potentially lots of invasive weeds, and this may require more extensive spraying,” says Matt.
Once the seedlings are planted, post planting maintenance includes release spraying after six months and some release scrubbing (manual weeding). This continues once or twice a year for up to two years, until the seedlings are hardy and established enough to thrive alone.
Tailoring the seed mix
“We tailor the species to the land and climate, and have seen many different ways of planting and know what works,” says Matt.
“It’s all about building relationships with the farmers and the nurseries,” says Antony.
A lot of their riparian work is paid for through multiple government-funded programmes. Set backs are already documented and the fences are already in. The brothers plant within the fenced area.
For areas with moving water, planting water tolerant plants on the water’s edge, such as harakeke (flax), will help stabilise the banks and provide flood protection. Wetland loving plants, such as grasses and sedges, are planted in standing water. Dry tolerant species are planted further away from the flood zone.
Regeneration of forest blocks is a long process, with native grasses and quick growing colonising plants taking over at first, binding and re-establishing the soil’s microclimate. Over many years, as the larger canopy trees such as totara and kahikatea grow, these smaller plants slow down and the rich, leaf litter forest floor is formed. Native birds and animals settle to complete this ecosystem.
Working smarter and harder
Modern technology plays an important role and the planting area is calculated using an app. Matt shows the spreadsheet that they have developed to work out what seedlings they require for a job.
“We punch in the species we want, the planting area, distance required between plants and the percentage of each species, and it calculates how many of each seedling we need.”
Strong, healthy plants are paramount to the business, and the brothers have formed relationships with suppliers they have confidence in.
“We use quality, gold standard planting techniques, which are good for both the physical health of the planter and the plant itself,” says Antony.
Bearing in mind that most planting by farmers is a necessity and doesn’t make them money, Koroneiki have perfected their fast, efficient, planting technique, and charge by the plant rather than by the hour.
“We work from 6am until dark, during April to September, and are set up well for those smaller jobs of 1000 to 5000 trees, although we can do any size of job that is required,” says Antony.
Summer months are for the maintenance work.
The brothers hope to grow their team, finding hardworking, like-minded people who are passionate about the environment, and want to learn.
“We find the work both purposeful and rewarding, and we love working outside,” says Antony.