Canada–United States softwood lumber dispute

softwood-lumber

Isn’t it amazing.

Here’s a forest industry story that has strong echoes here in Tasmania.

It seems the forest industry has the same problems around the world.

http://business.financialpost.com/2014/10/31/the-granddaddy-of-all-canadian-u-s-trade-disputes-is-about-to-rear-its-ugly-head-again/

and even a Wikipedia entry about this trade dispute:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canada%E2%80%93United_States_softwood_lumber_dispute

So what’s the issue?

Well the Canadian lumber industry is unfairly subsidized by federal and provincial governments (just like here in Tassie), as most timber in Canada is owned by the provincial governments (just like here in Tassie). The prices charged to harvest the timber (stumpage fee) are set administratively (just like here in Tassie), rather than through the competitive marketplace, the norm in the United States.

And why are forest product prices in the US set through the competitive marketplace? Because most forests in the US are privately owned and private owners do not want to be competing against stupid anti-trust Governments. They want to get the best price possible for their trees.

And the National and Provincial Governments in Canada refuse to reform their forest industry and open it up to competitive pricing, just like the Tasmanian Government.

And don’t the American’s hate that!

Hence the massive trade dispute!

Now I’m not sure what defines “unfair” subsidies? Sounds like an oxymoron to me.

I just hope the Americans give the Canadians a lesson in economics 101.

Now I wonder how many of those subsidised, anti-trust Canadian forest operations have FSC certification?

And here we are in Tasmania with exactly the same problem, but we don’t have a trade partner like the USA to kick our stupid butt!

A shame really!!

 

Summary of Stakeholder Submissions and Responses

seeking_your_input_blog_banner_2014

My apologies for such a long blog but the ongoing fiasco of Tasmanian State forest policy and practice continues to dominate the commercial and political landscape.

I wish it were different!

As part of the application process for Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification Forestry Tasmania recently released a summary of issues raised by stakeholders and Forestry Tasmania’s responses to these issues. These two reports are available from their website.

http://www.forestrytas.com.au/topics/2014/11/forestry-tasmania-s-forest-management-plan-now-available

As usual my comments relate to Forestry Tasmania’s commercial management and performance, as well as to special timber issues. These are discussed in the report Forest Management Plan – Public Summary of Stakeholder Submissions and Responses (103kb PDF).

Commercial management

The first thing that is immediately obvious in the response documents is the ongoing absence of any serious discussion around commercial management and performance. There is not even a section in the document with the heading Commercial Management and Performance.

I find this utterly extraordinary. Actually I find it quite offensive!!

At a time when Tasmania faces a budgetary crisis and we are sacking teachers and nurses and dropping other essential public services, we continue to subsidise Forestry Tasmania. A Government Business Enterprise wasting scarce taxpayer’s money getting native forest products to market!

This is apparently more important than our children’s education or the health of the community!

It also says a lot about the lack of corporate governance by the State Government and the State Parliament.

Clearly FT does not regard taxpayers as important stakeholders. Also not enough Tasmanian taxpayers are visiting their local FT offices and complaining about this ongoing waste! Common people! Get to it!!

Here’s some stakeholder comments on commercial matters:

  • A common comment was that insufficient consideration was given to production and economic considerations. Some stakeholders were concerned that there was an over emphasis on environmental and social considerations compared to economic considerations in the draft plan.
  • Some stakeholders commented that Forestry Tasmania needs to be financially self sufficient and return a profit to its shareholders.

 

I couldn’t agree more with these stakeholder comments. And here’s FT’s response:

Positive financial outcomes are one of six strategic objectives now identified in the released Plan. Forestry Tasmania will implement the systems and strategies outlined in the Plan to meet the other five objectives, while also seeking to meet the objective of achieving positive financial outcomes. Forestry Tasmania’s Ministerial Charter details the activities that the Government expects us to undertake. In addition, Forestry Tasmania also produces a Statement of Corporate Intent, which is available on our website and describes the organisation’s financial performance targets as agreed by its Board and shareholder Ministers.

I find this response pretty pathetic especially within the context of the State budget crisis. Both the Ministerial Charter and the Statement of Corporate Intent are incredibly lightweight documents. You can find them here:

http://www.forestrytas.com.au/forest-management/policies

and

http://www.forestrytas.com.au/forest-management/forestry-tasmania-ministerial-charter

They provide little information on how FT is going to improve its commercial management and performance. I would think that given the ongoing State budget crisis and need for taxpayer support, that these matters would form a major part of the Forest Management Plan. Instead the FMP ignores these important issues.

Clearly the stakeholder concerns expressed above are in fact correct and have yet to be dealt with.

Forestry Tasmania continues with the charade that wood production is not a profit-driven, commercial business. Curious really. All private tree growers against which Forestry Tasmania competes in the marketplace, certainly regard wood production as a profit-driven, commercial business.

 

Special Timbers

At least there is a section in the document dealing specifically with special timbers (page 5). Not surprising given that this issue has dominated much State parliament discussion.

Here’s what the report says about special timbers:

The long term sustainable supply of special species timbers including blackwood was of concern to a number of stakeholders. This was expressed in a number of ways including:

o Suggestions that the Permanent Timber Production Zone land would not be able to sustainably supply industry needs.

Haven’t we known this for decades? Despite all the gloss, spin and promises the supply of special timbers has never been on a sustainable basis.

o Suggestions that current harvesting practices are leading to poor recovery and waste of special species timber.

The inevitable result of poor commercial management and an industrial forestry business model. Again no surprises.

o Requests for a detailed inventory of special species.

Such an inventory would cost more than the resource is actually worth. Which is why FT has never done one.

Response

  • Forestry Tasmania acknowledges the concerns stakeholders have about special species supplies. The Plan has been updated to detail how recent legislative changes affect the special species timbers supply from Permanent Timber Production Zone land. These changes have reduced the area of the Special Timbers Zone managed by Forestry Tasmania from 97 000 to 56 000 hectares. The Forestry (Rebuilding the Forest Industry) Act 2014 requires the Minister for Resources to develop a special species management plan by October 2017. The final Plan indicates that Forestry Tasmania’s future management of special species timbers from PTPZ land will be informed by the special species management plan when it becomes available.

So it’s going to take 3 years (!) to produce a plan that will tell us that the public native forest special timbers industry is over??!! Now let me guess! When is the next State election due? Oh that’s convenient! It’s just after the plan comes out. Stand by for yet another State election dominated by the forest industry! This is just too much! If it’s anything like the last Strategy in 2010 this plan will be a joke.

  • The Plan has been updated to include the results of the December 2013 review of the sustainable level of harvesting from Forestry Tasmania’s blackwood management zone.

This is true! It is now mentioned on page 32 of the Forest Management Plan (FMP). What is not discussed is why the ongoing harvest of blackwood from our public forests continues well above the sustainable yield at 10,000 cubic metres of sawlog per year. Is this blatant fraud or deception?

  • Forestry Tasmania is obligated to make available a minimum of 137 000 cubic metres per year of high quality eucalypt sawlog and veneer log from Permanent Timber Production Zone land. In the process of harvesting this product, a range of other forest products are generated, including special species timbers. Forestry Tasmania has a range of systems in place to maximise the economic value, use and recovery of all forest products arising from harvesting operations. The Plan has been updated to include that in addition to supplying sawmill customers with special species timber, Forestry Tasmania maintains its commitment to its Island Specialty Timber business in order to stock and supply specialty timber products to meet market demand. This includes a tender system for higher quality products.

I could really go to town on this one! Why do we have a legislated sawlog production volume but absolutely NO commercial performance objectives or criteria? It is the epitome of stupidity! And as for the “range of systems …. to maximise the economic value, use and recovery”. Clearly the systems have failed! Either that or the forest products produced by Forestry Tasmania are worthless! Either way the system clearly doesn’t work!

  • Forestry Tasmania is presently conducting an inventory of the special species timber resource , using LiDAR imagery, as a consultancy for the State Government.

What can I say? A futile exercise that will arrive just in time to dominate the next State election. I can’t wait! All of this for a “non commercial” activity! It really is a deeply offensive joke!

 

Well at least FT is being more transparent about the commercial management of special timbers. Here’s what the revised Forest Management Plan has to say:

In general, the harvest of special species timbers from the blackwood and eucalypt forest zones is a commercial activity while the harvest of special species timbers from the rainforest zone is a non-commercial activity and requires funding support (FMP, p. 32).

So a “commercial activity” is defined as one that requires ongoing taxpayer support, whilst a “non-commercial activity” is defined as one that also requires ongoing taxpayer support.

OK! Clear as mud!

Appendix 1 of the FMP (Summary of recent legislative changes related to land previously managed by Forestry Tasmania) is also worth reading as it sets the stage for the next State election campaign, and further blood-letting around the special timbers industry.

Conclusion

The stupidity around State forest policy and management is clearly set to continue for many years to come.

Whilst FT appears to have made some minor progress is terms of transparency and stakeholder engagement, there is still a very long and difficult road ahead.

As a member of the private special timber-growers industry my message to the FSC remains clear and simple:

Absolutely no FSC certification for Forestry Tasmania until:

  1. FT is restructured, managed and governed on a fully commercial and profitable basis;
  2. All harvesting of wood from public native forest both inside and outside the Permanent Timber Production Zone must be on a profitable, commercial basis. Absolutely no taxpayer support for public native forest wood harvesting at all.

United Forestry Group NZ

UFG

Notice was given of the formation of this New Zealand organisation in my story back in August.

http://blackwoodgrowers.com.au/2014/08/23/new-group-looks-to-become-fonterra-of-forestry/

So here they are up and running with their own website.

http://www.unitedforestrygroup.co.nz/

And here’s a collection of “cut and paste” from that website to give you an idea of what they have to offer the small forest owner in New Zealand.

United Forestry Group | UFG

A strong new company, United Forestry Group Ltd (UFG), has been formed in New Zealand to help the owners of some 14,000 small plantation forests, totalling more than half a million hectares, with the challenge of marketing a  “wall of wood” coming to maturity  over the next two decades.

Mission Statement

To unite the interests of forest owners to provide innovative and attractive harvesting options incorporating world class logistics and marketing resources delivering excellent commercial and community benefits.

Our approach will assist small forest owners to compete with the owners of larger forests who currently enjoy the advantages of economies of scale and greater expertise.

About Us

Joining with United Forestry Group (UFG) will enable small forest owners to compete more successfully and achieve better returns than by trying to go it alone.

United Forestry Group (UFG) shareholders bring local forestry management expertise and contacts together with considerable financial resources, long established contacts in the Asian and local markets, and shipping and supply chain expertise.

Joint Venture Superpen Limited, a NZ company, is a cornerstone investor in the new company. Partners in the joint venture are major players in timber exporting – international timber marketer Pentarch of Australia and Chinese conglomerate Xiamen Xiangyu, which has considerable logistics, shipping and and supply chain assets.

The Superpen joint venture will deliver expertise, contacts with timber buyers, shipping services and financial strength to United Forestry Group (UFG).

Financial Strength

Our financial strength, our expertise and contacts, and a strategy devised to improve the return from small forests whether by marketing to local processors or overseas buyers, are the key.

Our size and resources will enable us to buy and consolidate existing forests and co-ordinate orderly harvesting, marketing and shipping. Our approach enables small foresters to join with us and extract the maximum possible return – the lowest possible cost and and the best possible price. At the same time we offer forest owners investment opportunities if they wish to participate in the wider forestry industry.

Asset Protection and Security

We believe that union is strength and that owners of a single small forest are vulnerable because of their limited bargaining power and marketing ability.

Consolidating forests through UFG (United Forestry Group) will enable you to enjoy the benefits of economies of scale, greater bargaining power and greater expertise. It will be possible to manage a consolidated forest resource sustainably to produce better outcomes and to time the market better.

Consolidation will protect your asset and give you greater security.

 

I doubt we will see anything like this in Tasmania anytime soon but it sure sounds like a great idea.

It will be interesting to see whether they can attract the support of small forest growers and become a major player in the New Zealand forest industry.

Those New Zealand farm foresters are lucky to have such an option.

Go to the website and check them out.

Hydro Wood – Landline – ABC

This is just such a great feel-good story, no one could possibly have any problems with salvaging public timber at taxpayers expense. Could they?

Hydrowood Landline

Hydro Wood – Landline – ABC.

Generally I support the project.

And I congratulate SFM Forest Products for getting the project going.

However I do have a few issues that I think warrant consideration.

And the ABC Landline program was screaming these issues at me loud and clear.

1) The complete disconnect from any commercial reality (but we do have a very long tradition of this in the forest industry). Can the market absorb an extra 20,000 cubic metres of specialty timbers per year? How will the wood be sold to market? Tender? Auction? Mates rates? Will these logs be available for export? What impact will this have on current market prices, especially for blackwood, given that private growers will be competing against even more subsidised wood? For heavens sake!! When will the private forest grower ever get a fair deal in Tasmania? When will we stop bastardising the forest industry? When will we stop thinking of the forest industry as a community service and start thinking of it as a business?

2) If the timber resource is so valuable then why the need for a taxpayer subsidy? The forest industry already has a bad track record of squandering vast millions of Government handouts and subsidies. This just sets yet another bad example, and it didn’t need too. This could have been a fully commercial, profitable operation with no taxpayer funding.

Here’s a recent example from New Zealand that provides a much better model for how to deal with the salvage of a public special timbers resource, and this will result in money going to the Government not costing taxpayers. Why can’t we do it this way in Tasmania?

http://www.doc.govt.nz/about-doc/news/media-releases/2014/first-west-coast-timber-salvage-approved/

And this is just the first of what they hope to be many Hydro special timbers salvage operations!! Excuse me while I scream in frustration!!!

There will be very little investment in blackwood in the next few decades whilst the market is flooded with this cheap subsidised wood.

Screw my plans for a blackwood growers cooperative!

Screw existing private blackwood growers whose resource is now worthless!

I think given this is a private company running the Hydrowood project whose goal it is to look after the interests of private forest growers, a bit more thought on the commercial context and planning would have made this project much more agreeable to private blackwood growers.

As it is I think the project is currently detrimental to the interests of private blackwood growers. This needs to change!

Please can’t we do better than this?

November 2014 Island Specialty Timbers Tender Results

27 of 28 lots sold to 10 of 19 bidders at good to very strong prices for most lots.

http://www.islandspecialtytimbers.com.au/shops/ist/pages/april-may-2008-tender-report

(and scroll down the page for the latest tender results)

Lots 2 and 24 contained blackwood logs.

Lot 2:

A recently harvested good quality log with good colour, a little twist, fluted shape but solid with some tear-drop figure. High quality, large diameter log.  

Length 3.9 metres, butt diameter 79 cm, head diameter 69 cm, volume 1.67 cubic metres.

This log sold for $1,250 per cubic metre or $2,090 for the log.

A very good price!

Lot 24:

This was a parcel of 13 smaller plain-grain blackwood logs.

A fresh parcel of average to good quality Category 4 blackwood sawlogs, on a size and quality scale of 1 – 5, with 5 best quality, this group would rate about 3.5.

Length range 3.7 to 6.5 metres average 5.0 metres, head diameter range 31 to 54 cm average 42 cm, volume range 0.4 to 1.26 cubic metres average 0.78 cubic metres. Total volume 10.1 cubic metres.

This parcel sold for $200 per cubic metre or a total of $2,020.

IST Oct14 Lot24

Once again the domestic market shows that any blackwood logs with figured grain attract great prices, with plain grain logs coming a long way behind in second place.

As usual the black heart sassafras logs dominated the tender and the price action, with the best result being $3,350 per cubic metre.

But who is going to plant sassafras and wait 300 years even for those prices?

Of note, even silver wattle is now attracting good prices. Two of the lots were silver wattle logs that sold for $450 per cubic metre. Not bad at all. Good to see this beautiful timber starting to get the recognition it deserves.

Blackwood Markets

Thanks to those blackwood sawmillers who contacted me in response to my recent blog.

http://blackwoodgrowers.com.au/2014/10/27/blackwood-sawmillers/

Here are some of the things I learned from these discussions – some very good, some not so good.

THE GOOD

Firstly there is strong demand for blackwood from export markets.

Local domestic markets remain generally quite.

Blackwood growers wanting to get a good price need to search out those few processors who are accessing these markets.

Prices “on stump” of up to $500 per cubic metre for good quality plain-grain logs are being offered, with exceptional logs going well above this.

Access to these export markets is available from anywhere in the State.

One processor is currently shipping an average one container of logs a day and is looking to increase this dramatically next year. They are accessing markets in 7 different countries!

Will Tasmanian farmers be able to meet this demand?

Strong demand for quality appearance-grade wood and a falling Aussie dollar are helping to drive interest in the blackwood market.

At these prices a blackwood plantation at harvest would be valued at well over $100,000 per hectare! Anyone interested?

Do I have a problem with exporting blackwood logs? Not at all!

Farmers should have the option to access whatever markets they wish for their products. If local processors can’t offer a good price then export it is. As I often remind people, forestry is business. Growing trees for wood production is about profit and good forest/land management.

The absolute foundation of any successful forest industry must be profitable tree growing. Not community service! Not taxpayer subsidises! Not ideology!

THE NOT SO GOOD

But the blackwood marketplace is not functioning anywhere near as well as it could/should.

All of this commercial activity is happening “off the radar”.

Instead of building interest in the farming community, creating much-needed positive sentiment in the forest industry, and building support and interest from the wider Tasmanian community the blackwood marketplace is still pretty invisible.

Why?

Fear and mistrust

With so many processors (at least 21) in the private blackwood business in Tasmania it is a very competitive, and at times cut-throat business. Hence the industry is dominated by fear and mistrust. Because of this fear all business is done quietly by word-of-mouth. No advertising. No promotion. No marketing.

Invisibility

Because of the fear and mistrust within the industry Tasmania remains ignorant of what is happening in the blackwood market. Farmers are generally unaware of the current and future potential of growing and selling commercial blackwood.

A lost opportunity for Tasmania.

The blackwood industry will only grow and prosper if there is greater transparency and integrity.

The market clearly wants quality blackwood timber and is prepared to pay good prices.

No voice

The forest industry in Tasmania is dominated and controlled by a select few sawmillers and processors. Private forest growers essentially have no voice or power/influence in the industry. Any forest industry that is dominated by the processors is doomed to fail. Forestry is fundamentally about making profits by growing trees. If tree growers have no power or voice in the game then no one will grow trees. It’s that simple.

State forest policy and Forestry Tasmania

There was plenty of criticism in the discussions with processors, about State forest policy and Forestry Tasmania. It is a myth that the Tasmanian forest industry is united and speaks with one voice. We generally only hear one voice because the dissenters fear the consequences of speaking out. The forest industry can be a rough trade at times.

These processors who deal with private forest growers know very well the damage that past and current State forest policy and practice is having on the industry.

CONCLUSION

The discussions with blackwood processors gave me a great sense of hope. But there are still plenty of challenges ahead.

The market clearly wants more Tasmanian blackwood.

The industry is currently too crowded and cut-throat. It needs 2-3 processor/operators that are prepared to cut through the mistrust with openness and integrity, and an efficient low-cost business model that delivers what the market wants whilst building trust and good relationships with the farming community.

With so much negative sentiment and bad experiences it will take a lot of work to rebuild trust within the farming community. Keeping “off the radar” is not the way to rebuild trust and interest. Most farmers will respond positively to a professional, honest, transparent approach. But good long-term relationships take time to develop.

Getting farmers to make a 30+ year investment by planting blackwood will require as much positive support and encouragement as possible. We need lots of flag waving and trumpet blowing on a major scale. And plenty of market “pull”.

Lowden 35 Series 40th Anniversary Tasmanian Blackwood Guitar

Lowden-guitar-35-tb-40th-back

Lowden are an Irish guitar maker of premium quality acoustic guitars. 2014 marks the 40th anniversary of George Lowden as a commercial luthier.

Doing some Sunday morning web browsing and came upon this absolute beauty.

http://www.lowdenguitars.com/guitar-spec-35-tb

and

http://www.lowdenguitars.com/guitar-spec-40th

Here’s what Lowden have to say about Tasmanian blackwood:

Tasmanian Blackwood has gained a reputation as one of the most highly prized tone woods in the world, with good reason. Always highly figured and with a warm, responsive tone, this guitar sounds beautiful with either Cedar for clarity or Californian Redwood for even more warmth and response.

And here’s a review of the guitar:

Lowden also offer Tasmanian blackwood as an option in their 50 Series guitars.

http://www.lowdenguitars.com/guitar-spec-50

Tasmanian blackwood just keeps making waves in the international tonewood market.

Now who is going to tell Tasmanian farmers? When will we start taking this high-value, niche market opportunity seriously?