Having politicians at forest industry meetings is a guarantee that reality is absent.
In any forest industry meeting the elephants in the room always out numbers the humans. There are so many topics and issues that are deliberately avoided.
At the end of the workshop I was overwhelmed by the confirmation bias. People in the forest industry are still more or less thinking the same thoughts and saying the same things they were 40 years ago, despite the fact the forest industry is in critical decline.
As much as I tried to throw new ideas into the discussion they were for the most part heavily resisted.
It wasn’t all bad. Some new ideas are slowly creeping into the industry, but they are slow, and few and far between.
Just two examples will suffice here:
The draft PFT Strategic Plan mentions the word “sustainable” four times, but the word “profit” (as in profitable tree growing) is completely absent. My push to have the word “profit” included in the Plan was strongly resisted.
I suggested that Private Forests Tasmania should stop trying to be the voice of the private forest industry. I suggested that forest industry stakeholders should instead find their own confident voices, and it is PFTs task to support stakeholders, not speak for them. This idea too was resisted.
PFT has a total of 10 staff and a small budget, and yet the Strategic Plan is an overwhelmingly broad, wordy, complicated document. Instead of trying to achieve significant progress on a few things, PFT will make little progress on a very broad front.
There is nothing in the Strategic Plan for blackwood growers.
It’s a broken business model!
The Strategic Plan will be finalised based on feedback from the workshop, incorporated into the PFT Corporate Plan, which then goes to the Mad Hatter/Minister for signing.
You can find the current Corporate Plan here:
PS. Given that the current Strategic Growth Plan for the Tasmanian forest industry does not even mention Private Forests Tasmania, we can be sure that little progress will be made in the coming years.
Eleven years ago when I started this blackwood cooperative dream I hoped that the international tonewood market would play a significant role in the resurrection of the shrinking Tasmanian blackwood industry, and particularly the American tonewood market. In the mid-2000s CF Martin and Taylor Guitars, two of America’s biggest guitar makers, had both started using Tasmanian blackwood on a limited basis, with Taylor bringing it online in 2016 in their 300 series.
Unfortunately CF Martin’s strategy with blackwood failed in the marketplace, and Taylor Guitars have now taken a different road.
No doubt the international profile of Tasmanian blackwood as a premium tonewood has expanded enormously over the last 10 years, thanks largely to the support of Taylor Guitars.
I had hoped that Taylor Guitars would play a more active role in Tasmania as they are doing in the Cameroon. For many years Taylor Guitars were singing blackwoods praises.
With Taylor Guitars taking on their Urban Wood initiative, and with Acacia melanoxylon being a common planted tree in California, Taylor Guitars are now sourcing their blackwood locally, as announced in the latest Wood & Steel vol. 102 magazine.
Many Taylor guitars made with blackwood have featured blackwood from Australia, but we’ve mostly ceased using wood from there and have been using the same species planted here in California, which comes out of urban landscapes as those trees die or become a danger. Yes, even though we don’t market it like we do Urban Ash, many of our blackwood guitars are now from an urban landscape; in fact, most of them are now. Here, people call them black acacia, and they’re called Tasmanian blackwood or Australian blackwood when they come from Down Under.
I can understand why Taylor has chosen to pursue their Urban Wood initiative. It makes enormous sense from many business and environmental points of view.
But it leaves Tasmania with yet another missed opportunity.
The forest industry in Tasmania is so conflicted, politicised and toxic it is virtually impossible to attract overseas investor interest. The risks here are just too great. Buyers come here to plunder not to plant!
So we must say goodbye to Taylor Guitars and thank them for their support over the last 18 years.
Over the last 40 years there have been numerous strategies and reports written about farm forestry in Australia and the various issues and challenges it faces (someone needs to do a literature review). Many recommendations have been made and few if any recommendations have ever been implemented.
So here we are in 2021 and history is repeating itself once again.
The Federal Government wants to produce a National Farm Forestry Strategy.
The idea of Farm forestry was initiated in Australia in the mid-1960s. And here we are 50+ years later and pretty much nothing has happened.
Why has farm forestry failed in Australia?
Because politics and forestry welfare have always trumped profitable tree growing, ie. farm forestry. That was true 50 years ago and is still true today.
Reading the “Background” section on this Federal Government website just makes me cringe!! Is this some kind of prospectus? If so it is a 100% failure!
Is farm forestry about profitable tree growing? Apparently not!
All this glossy forest industry rhetoric will be familiar to some people, who will shake with fear as it rekindles memories of the Managed Investment Schemes (MIS), Australia’s biggest ever corporate swindle.
Farm forestry is still competing against Government sawmill welfare and a forest industry dominated by rentseekers and protectionist policies. Profitable tree growing is not on anyone’s agenda. Tree planter beware!!
My previous blog about functional wood markets is very relevant here.
Farm forestry will continue to struggle in Australia until we establish proper functioning wood markets, and that must be driven by the marketplace not politicians, bureaucrats and rentseekers.
We definitely need a National Farm Forestry Strategy but the focus must be on profitable tree growing, developing commercial credibility in the forest industry, and coordinating the support of the marketplace.
For thousands of years humans have been using wood for all sorts of reasons – to hunt, cook, stay warm, build shelter and wage war. And for all that time we have had natural forests to plunder. Whatever wood we could find we used, mostly with plenty of contempt and waste.
But the days of plundering natural forests are just about over.
One of the problems this history has created is dysfunctional wood markets.
Cheap plentiful wood from natural forests has meant no one has ever taken responsibility for the future. Cutting down and sawing up trees is simple. Getting trees planted and managed for the future is the real challenge.
There are thousands of businesses in Australia that rely on wood (harvesting, transport, milling, retail, manufacture, craft, music, art, etc.), and 99.99% of them take no interest or responsibility in the future supply of wood.
There is no relationship in the market between using and consuming wood and a tree being planted and managed.
Third party certification schemes such as Responsible Wood/PEFC and FSC are not building the forest industry and growing more wood for the future. Their goal is to save and better manage existing natural forests, not to grow more new wood resources.
The fact that the forest industry in Australia has never established any commercial credibility hasn’t helped the situation.
There must be a credible, transparent relationship between the price of wood and the cost of planting, growing and managing trees; and that relationship must encourage and support more tree planting to meet future demand.
My focus here is especially the premium solid wood market.
Until we build proper functioning wood markets in Australia most of these Australian businesses will disappear. Some will switch to imported wood when public native welfare forestry is shut down, but many will close. All for the want of a proper functioning wood market.
There are plenty of challenges that need to be addressed in order to build proper functioning wood markets but they are not insurmountable.
Possibly the first and greatest challenge is market (and consumer) recognition and responsibility.
Proper functioning wood markets in Australia must be driven by the market and consumers.
Recent comments in the media by furniture makers and builders in Western Australia (in response to the shutting down of public native forestry) do not provide encouragement. Can you believe they would rather import timber from Indonesia than support local farm forestry?
How the thousands of wood-dependent businesses in Australia will come together to coordinate and plan their future is part of this challenge. Most of these businesses are too small to achieve much by themselves. The Australian Furniture Association could take on this role for furniture makers. Builders, cabinet makers and retailers could possibly join the AFA in this.
2. The second challenge is getting the farming community on board to plant, grow and manage the trees that the market wants.
I personally think this second challenge is by far the easier of the two.
Once farmers see the market change to being responsible and supportive they will quickly get on board.
There will need to be some serious talking and building trust, and careful management of risk.
Unlike the past where the market could pick and choose from a wide variety of natural forest woods, the market must now decide on which species it wishes to promote and support in farm forestry. Species must be fast growing and command sufficient market price to allow farmers to grow them commercially. Given we are talking 30+ years between investment/planting and harvest/revenue/profit, this will require careful consideration, coordination and planning.
The idea that farmers just randomly plant hundreds of different tree species in the hope of finding a buyer in the future just wont work. Farm forestry for the growing of high quality premium solid wood will require coordination and planning, driven by the market.
This is where organisations like the AFA must play a central role.
Final some discussion about markets.
Will there still be demand for premium quality solid wood in 30+ years time?
Certainly over my 40+ year career as a forester I have seen premium quality solid wood go from a being a common cheap product to a scarce expensive product, with all indications leading to its eventual disappearance from the Australian market entirely.
I think this is primarily a supply issue, rather than one of demand.
I see sufficient evidence that the market is prepared to pay very high prices for quality solid wood.
The problem is that in a dysfunctional wood market, these price/demand signals don’t trigger a supply response as they should. If we had a strong farm forestry culture in Australia and proper functioning wood markets, these price/demand signals would be making front page news. That is where we need to get too!
This is the conversation we should have been having 50 years ago when the forestry wars began!
These are the important questions that will determine the future of the forest industry in Australia.
The end of Public Native Welfare Forestry in Australia has been coming for decades. But so many people dependent on it have chosen to ignore this fact.
Most furniture makers and builders just expect quality timber to be in the marketplace ready to buy. They have no interest in securing their own future.
How do furniture makers support farm forestry? Will furniture makers and builders support farm forestry??
New Zealand farmers have been happily growing quality timbers including lots of different eucalypt species, and blackwood, for decades. Why can’t Australian farmers?
Why don’t Australian furniture makers support New Zealand farmers and buy New Zealand grown quality wood? New Zealand farmers would love to sell their quality wood to Australian furniture makers.
If New Zealand wants timber, New Zealand farmers grow it!!
Why can’t Australian farmers grow timber for Australia??
Australia has never had a proper forest industry. Nor has it ever had proper functioning wood markets.
It has all been welfare, ideological and political!!
Not an ounce of commercial reality anywhere!!
Imagine if Australian furniture makers got behind and supported farm forestry in Australia. Just imagine the huge transformation that would initiate!!
The argument that you can’t make quality furniture out of plantation timber is of course utter bullshit. It is part of the bullshit the forest industry says to justify plundering taxpayers and our public native forests.
“We’ve never been able to grow jarrah or karri well in plantations,” Mr de Fégely said.
That is true for Jarrah, but not true for Karri. Karri is a very fast growing eucalypt species. It has been grown in plantations in South Africa for almost a century.
When it comes to defending public native welfare forestry, the forest industry will completely disparage farm forestry.
The final comments from forestry head Rob de Fégely are utterly stupid.
Growing trees for wood production is NOT welfare, it is business!!
Mr de Fégely wants to keep defending the welfare forestry model.
It’s time we gave welfare forestry the flick!!
It is time to support farm forestry in Australia!!
Congratulations on winning the Tasmanian Tree Farmer of The Year 2021 Award.
It’s a prestigious award!
1. Firstly can you give my readers some background? How did you get into farming and into growing trees?
I was raised on my parents farm and for as long as I can remember I wanted to farm and own an area of land and bush. I got into growing trees for their aesthetics and the environmental benefits they provide.
Our farm (Judy, my wife and I) is broken up by a series of short steep drops running basically North to South and were covered in bracken fern and blackberry. The prevailing winds are west/southwest so these banks seemed a percect place to provide erosion control and wind protection. Providing shelter was our primary aim in planting trees.
2. What tree species are you growing and why? How much of your farm is dedicated to growing trees?
I wanted to grow a variety of species (probably too many) that I was interested in and thought may grow reasonably well in our climatic conditions.
Approximately 14 hectares is plantation. Native bush is predominantly backwood.
3. Do you enjoy growing trees?
Yes I enjoy growing trees and I find it very satisfying and fulfilling.
4. Can tree growing be a profitable addition to a farm enterprise in Tasmania?
Tree growing can be a profitable addition to a farming enterprise. We have profitably harvested Blackwood (non plantation). Personally harvested and sold a small plantation of Radiata that was on the farm when purchased. We have just completed a profitable thinning and on site milling of our oldest redwood plantation.
5. As a tree farmer how much support and interest do you get from the local forest industry and wood markets?
As growers of mainly small lots of specialty timbers I dont consider we fit the normal profile for local timber markets, however have had local interest in Redwoods, and can always sell Radiata.
6. How much do you know about wood markets, supply, demand and prices? Is this information readily available to you?
Finding a transparent comparison of prices can sometimes be a little difficult. There are established markets for Radiata, however there are no established markets for Redwoods. C. Macrocarpa is attracting interest, however there is currently no transparent pricing for it.
7. As an award winning tree farmer do you think the market will now sit up and take notice and support and reward your efforts? In other words does the Award have any leverage in the marketplace?
I honestly do not know if the award will provide any leverage in the market place, however this should not be a negative.
8. Can you tell me where you think farm forestry will be in Tasmania in 20 years? Will it be a thriving profitable business or will it continue to struggle as it has for the past 50 years?
A very hard question! I would love to see a time when farmers would plant a crop of trees as readily as a crop of potatoes. I have no crystal ball but I think the reality is that it will continue to limp along.
I sincerely hope that the imperative for farming to achieve carbon neutrality may encourage farmers to store carbon. Hopefully farmers may consider planting speciality timber trees such as blackwood and redwood etc., that can store carbon for the longer term. The carbon credits for these plantations would be passed on with the sale of the farm and thus maybe help overcome the hesitancy of growing trees that require a longer time frame.
9. There are many issues holding farm forestry back in Tasmania. What do you think are the two most important of these issues?
Hard to limit it to two.
I think one is to provide clear and transparent pricing and encouragement from forestry companies so that farmers can be reasonably certain of achieving a satisfactory return for “locking up” part of their farm for a long period of time.
For the majority of farmers timber has to provide a return that at least gets close to equalling the return they may get for any other use they put their land too.
The other issues I see, especially for growers of longer term specialty species is how to encourage farmers to plant trees that personally they are unlikely to realise a monetary profit. Hopefully carbon neutrality may help.
10. Finally on a positive note, can you tell us about your best experience as a tree farmer.
Growing, felling and milling your own timber is extremely satisfying, however the most extreme experience is standing in a 40 year old plantation of Redwoods realising their beauty and knowing they were planted by us!
Graham and Judy
Thankyou Graham for your time, and may your tree-growing efforts not go unrewarded.
The Table of Contents gives a good idea of how the story goes.
Part 1 Guitar Worlds
1 * The Guitar
2 * The Factory
3 * The Sawmill
Part 2 Into the Forest
4 * Rosewood
5 * Sitka
6 * Koa
7 * Guitar Futures
The book is more a social/spiritual than a economic/resource oriented journey, which may appeal to guitar players.
Unfortunately the book does peddle some of the myths of the guitar world, such as
guitars can only be made from large, old, slow-growing trees; and
guitars can only be made from a small range of tree species.
Neither of these myths is true!
Cole Clark Guitars is just one example that breaks both of these myths.
What is obvious from reading the book is that the guitar industry is in serious trouble.
The book focuses strongly on what was historically, and is no more.
Having plundered the best of the best of the worlds forests, the guitar industry is running out of resource. At least a resource that they have been accustomed too = large, big, old trees!
If solid wood acoustic guitars are to have a future, makers (and consumers/artists) must shift from 2 piece backs and soundboards, to 3 and 4 piece. Big old trees will no longer be available in any volume.
Secondly, the guitar industry and tonewood suppliers must actively encourage, support and reward the planting and growing of tonewoods. Taylor Guitars and Pacific Rim Tonewoods are the only examples I know of who are doing this. Others must follow!
Thirdly, as I said, every music festival should have a focus on encouraging farmers to grow tonewoods.
I particularly enjoyed the chapter on Koa, recognising the many parallels between Koa and its Tasmanian cousin Blackwood. The one exception is that whilst Koa has turned the corner to a brighter future, Blackwood remains bound to its colonial past of plunder and waste.
The book finishes on a bright note, giving us the impression that the entire global guitar industry has experienced an environmental epiphany. If this is so there is little evidence of it on the guitar company web pages; Taylor and CF Martin being two exceptions. This is true even here in Australia.
A big part of the problem is that most guitar companies (and more so tonewood suppliers) are small businesses that do not have the resources to put into securing their future tonewood supplies. The very existence of these guitar/tonewood companies is premised on the ready availability of plundered cheap tonewoods. The idea of Maton or Cole Clark engaging with farmers to plant tonewoods is completely off the radar!
So the key question is – how will the global guitar industry secure its future supply of tonewoods? Will only the big companies survive the resource Armageddon?
This question is not asked in the book, nor is it answered! Not directly anyway!!
The answer will be in using smaller wood sizes and a larger range of different tree species.
But who will grow these trees, where and at what price?
I see no evidence as yet to link the guitar markets with landowners.
The same problem is equally true of wood furniture makers. They have no future!!
One gets the impression from the book that the only way the guitar industry will survive is if we suspend standard western economic theory. If that is the case the guitar industry has no hope.
One aspect of the book I found difficult was the very strong anti-monoculture rant. Never mind that all our food is grown in industrial monocultures. How else do we feed 7.8 billion humans?? Native forests are ecosystems that should be managed as such, but trees as commercial crops are just that. They are no different to apple orchards or cow ranches or corn farms. A blackwood plantation that covers 5-10 hectares or even 50 ha is a commercial decision made by the landowner.
The book provides no discussion of forest certification systems (eg. FSC, PEFC). Will certification guarantee future supplies of quality tonewoods? Absolutely not!!
Will the book change the global tonewood market or the guitar industry?
It’s a shame that the book was not launched by the Musicwood Alliance – assuming the Musicwood Alliance still exists. Beside Bob Taylor and Taylor Guitars, no one is telling the marketplace what the situation is.
Right now guitar players everywhere should be mobilising and marching in the streets demanding action.
Ultimately it is consumers and artists who will determine the future of the guitar industry. The more they know and understand what is happening the better it will be for everyone.
That is now two States lining up to shut down Welfare Public Native Forestry in Australia after 50 years of divisive, destructive forestry wars.
It is undoubtedly significant that the two States to announce the end of public native forestry currently have very strong Governments and opposition parties in complete disarray. This gives the Government the courage and opportunity to make tough decisions that won’t become divisive political issues at the next election cycle.
Both State Governments also have very good Balance Sheets at the moment so some spending can be used to help sweeten the tough decisions.
No doubt the forest industry will be screaming about political betrayal and cowardice….and jobs, jobs, jobs…… over the coming months.
The truth is the writing has been on the wall for public native forestry for decades.
Ever since industrial woodchipping commenced in Australia in the early 1970’s and the publication of “Fight for the Forests” in 1973, public native forestry has been on the defensive.
The problem was that in the 1970s the forest industry and the forestry profession believed the forestry wars could be won.
Back then the forest industry had a number of alternative approaches it could have chosen in the face of mounting criticism; alternatives that would have broadened the support base, built the plantation sector and created a positive future. Instead the forest industry chose the worst possible course of action.
Here we are 50 years later and the forest industry in Australia is a complete mess!
50 years of conflict has left the forest industry exhausted, demoralised and isolated.
The industry is still committing a significant part of its declining resources defending the indefensible, whilst at the same time depriving the plantation sector of any oxygen at all.
The industry is shrinking rather than expanding, with declining commercial viability.
Back in 1998 when Victoria became the first State Government to privatise its softwood plantation estate the “writing on the wall” became a large, bright, flashing rooftop neon sign! And still the forest industry refused to see the changes coming!!
The lack of understanding and foresight within the Australian forest industry has been breathtaking!
Will the industry survive the death of Public Native Welfare Forestry?
It will be a near-death experience.
And what about all those businesses in Australia that rely on quality, appearance grade timber.
Will they continue to sit back and do nothing to secure their future?
Or will they reach out to Australian farmers to support, encourage and reward farm forestry?
Time is running out!
The end of public native welfare forestry in Australia is now within sight.
50 years of conflict in our forests will soon be at an end.