2014 The Year in Review

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It’s that time of the year to wish everyone a safe and happy festive season, and to recap on another year in the Tasmanian forest industry.

I have to admit not much progress was made during the year in getting Tasmanian farmers growing commercial blackwood, nor in getting the various players in the blackwood marketplace to open up and help build the blackwood industry.

This is not surprising. The forest industry continues to be overwhelmed by negative sentiment and politics.

The Good:

The Inaugural Deloraine Stringfest

Until I got a phone call from the organiser asking me to participate I had not heard about this event. What a great event it was and such a natural fit with developing the commercial future for blackwood, one of the world’s great sustainable tonewoods. Unfortunately Stringfest remains significantly enslaved to the unsustainable public native forest special timbers fiasco. Until these ties are broken Stringfest remains a festival compromised. But it’s on again next year and hopefully bigger and better than 2014. See you there!

Taylor Guitars 2014 Fall Limited edition guitars

US guitar giant Taylor Guitars continued to show their support for Tasmanian tonewoods in 2014 with the successful Fall Limited series.  True it was the stunning blackheart sassafras models rather than the plainer blackwood that captured most of the market attention. But it’s the blackwood that remains the quiet achiever and the tonewood with the future. The feature article in the Fall 2014 Wood & Steel magazine was also great promotion.

Strong export markets and prices

Meeting some blackwood processors who are involved in private blackwood log export was a real eye-opener. The first surprise was the high quality of the private blackwood logs being sourced. That blackwood of this quality is still available from private land in Tasmania was a real eye opener for me. The second revelation was the obvious high demand for quality blackwood from so many countries, and a willingness to pay good prices! Especially at a time when the domestic markets remain subdued.

That all this good trading is happening completely “off the radar” is the real disappointment. No advertising, no media coverage. This positive forestry story remains completely unknown to most Tasmanians. And the commercial future and potential of blackwood remains thwarted. Just how do we get the blackwood marketplace to open up and work properly? Because until it does then Tasmanian farmers and the Tasmanian community will be the losers.

The Not So Good:

2014 was another year dominated by negative sentiment and politics on almost a weekly basis.

The State Election

Yet another State election campaign dominated by the forest industry. No wonder Tasmanians are fed up! And anyone would think that the public native forest special timbers industry is fundamental to Tasmania’s economic prosperity the way the politicians behave. It really is a joke. And it will all be repeated again in 2017/18 at the next State election (see below)!

The Scrapping of the TFA, Rebuilding the Forest Industry Bill 2014, the Workplaces (Protection from Protesters) Bill 2014, the Triabunna witch-hunt and finally the annual Government Businesses Scrutiny Committees

There is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that politics dominates and controls the forest industry in Tasmania. It dominates and controls just about every aspect of the industry on a daily basis. There is nothing about business or commerce here at all. The new State Liberal Government plans to rebuild the industry without even the outline of a Plan, whilst the new anti-protest legislation has been soundly condemned by just about everyone without a vested interest in a draconian future.

Even the distressed residents of Triabunna eventually came to realise that the political witch-hunt around the sale of the woodchip mill was a waste of time and money, not to mention the opening of old wounds for no apparent gain.

And lastly the annual week of Government Businesses Scrutiny Committees turned into another political fiasco, demonstrating the real value of political rhetoric and promises. So we now have the stupidity of Tasnetwork customers subsidising Forestry Tasmania. Tasnetwork customers would include a large number of existing and potential future private forest growers. Private forest growers subsidising the public grower! And for this we sack teachers and nurses. The nonsense and stupidity just has no end and knows no bounds!

Why aren’t people out in the streets protesting this nonsense? Tasmanians are just too placid when it comes to politics!

The FT Blackwood Resource Review

Forestry Tasmania released the first blackwood sawlog resource review since 1999. There was essentially no relationship at all between the 1999 and the 2014 review, with no demonstration of sustainability let alone profitability. Very disappointing!

The FT draft FMP and FSC application

As part of Forestry Tasmania’s FSC Certification application the draft Forest Management Plan (FMP) shows some improvement in transparency and accountability but there is still a very long way to go. It sure fails to demonstrate any commercial management skills whatsoever. The FMP also tells us that the next State election campaign will once again be dominated by forestry issues especially around the special timbers industry and harvesting in parks and reserves. I just can’t wait!

The continuing commercial failure of FT

Forestry Tasmania itself acknowledges that it will continue to make losses for the foreseeable future, 2014 being no exception. But with no commercial objectives and no plan to improve commercial performance what hope is there? And all this while we sack teachers and nurses!

Whilst the major grower of high quality timber and special timber to the market continues to be managed as a taxpayer subsidised community service the forest industry will keep going backwards.

Conclusion

I can’t imagine a more hostile business environment for a forest industry than in Tasmania. On almost a weekly basis the Tasmanian media broadcasts to the world how dysfunctional our politically driven forest industry really is.

As I said 12 months ago 2014 was only ever going to be a bad year for the forest industry and so it has been!

And 2015 looks like being no different. More politics, more conflict and more stupidity!

Forestry Tasmania will most likely fail in its first attempt at FSC Certification. This will result in much agitation, shouting and finger-pointing in State Parliament and sections of the community. In fact given the highly politicised nature of forestry in Tasmania FSC certification is unlikely in the foreseeable future. Forestry Tasmania will also declare yet another financial loss and another taxpayer subsidy for the year whilst teachers and nurses will continue to lose their jobs.

Will Tasmanians ever wake up?

And what of blackwood as a commercial opportunity in 2015?

Stringfest 2015 will be bigger and better which will be good for my coop dream. Don’t forget the field trip to the private blackwood plantation I am organised as part of Stringfest.

Who knows what Taylor Guitars will do in 2015 but the rhetoric surely indicates they have something planned for blackwood and Tasmania.

As I build my network of blackwood industry and market contacts hopefully I can bring you more up-to-date market information on demand, supply and prices in 2015.

So dear readers I trust you have a safe and happy festive season. See you all in 2015.

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