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.
Plantation forestry is the ONLY primary production that is specificallyexcluded from designated prime agricultural land in Tasmania.
Principles 3.10 and 3.11 of the Policy specifically discuss plantation forestry. Principe 3.10 provides a general exclusion of plantation forestry from Prime Agricultural Land, whilst 3.11 allows plantation forestry to be excluded from any other agricultural land.
What is the purpose of the Policy?
What developments are affected?
Where does the Policy apply?
To conserve and protect agricultural land so that it remains available for the sustainable use and development of agriculture, recognising the particular importance of prime agricultural land. ‘Agricultural use’ includes use of the land for propagating, cultivating or harvesting plants or for keeping and breeding of animals, excluding domestic animals and pets. It includes the handling, packing or storing of agricultural produce for dispatch to processors or markets and controlled environment agriculture and plantation forestry.
Proposed non-agricultural use and development that is ‘discretionary ‘or ‘prohibited’ on land zoned either Significant Agriculture or Rural Resources in planning schemes or land adjoining these zones but with a different zoning.
All agricultural land in Tasmania zoned either Significant Agriculture or Rural Resources in planning schemes
Prime Agricultural Land (PAL) is defined as land with Land Capability Classes 1-3, as discussed in the following website:
PAL comprises 108,000 ha or just 4.3% of Tasmanian private land.
So why specifically exclude plantation forestry from 4.3% of Tasmania’s private land?
Why not exclude mohair goats, walnuts or truffles as well? Why pick on trees?
For a rabidly pro-forestry Parliament this Policy makes no sense whatsoever.
If a farmer plants a tree on any of these 108,000 ha are they breaking the law? Will they be prosecuted?
I know lots of farmers say you can’t eat wood, but as the recent global timber shortage demonstrated, neither can you build houses out of vegetable waste!!
As I’ve said many times before the forest industry in Tasmania is struggling to build a future. It wants to encourage farm forestry, but the Government has put numerous hurdles in its path. This Policy is one such hurdle.
Another hurdle is the treatment of plantation forestry under the Forest Practices Code. Plantation forestry should be treated just like any other primary industry, subject to the same rules and regulations. Just like it is in New Zealand!
It’s called a level playing field, and allows farmers to make better investment decisions to improve their commercial performance.
Now I think about it, the only reason plantation forestry is specifically mentioned in this policy is a warning to politicians. Under current markets the only way forest plantations would be grown on prime agricultural land is if politicians intervened to distort and corrupt markets as they did during the Managed Investment Scheme (MIS) disaster.
But as the world continues to run short of timber and wood prices increase, this Policy will need to be reviewed. The Tasmanian Government will need to start encouraging farmers to grow trees instead of discouraging them.
As I noted at the time, the Terms of Reference for the inquiry were very typical for the forest industry in Australia, ie. the focus was all on the processors and “jobs”.
And the title for the final report says it all (what a f*****g joke!):
Aussie logs for Aussie jobs
Inquiry into timber supply chain constraints in the Australian plantation sector
Was the inquiry about supporting, encouraging and rewarding profitable tree growers?
Not on your life!
The primary focus of the inquiry was about protectionism and market manipulation.
Don’t get me wrong! I’m happy to support local processing of forest products, but not if it means denying growers the right to open, competitive, transparent markets. Making long term investments, like growing timber, is hard enough without Governments and industry slamming the door in your face.
And this Inquiry and this Report provide absolutely no comfort to existing and potential timber growers, that such market interference wont happen!
So what can I say about the Report?
At least the report is more honest about the current state of the forest industry in Australia than a lot of previous reports.
The picture is rather gloomy!!
The forest plantation sector in Australia is in decline, losing resource and becoming less competitive.
The focus of the report is on commodity wood (pine and hardwood woodchips), with no mention of high value appearance grade forest products.
If nothing else, I recommend reading the section on Farm Forestry which begins on page 59 of the Report. I don’t agree with everything it says, I do agree that there are significant issues, most of which are not being addressed.
One curiosity is the mention in the Report of a “National Farm Forestry Strategy”. Apparently the Federal Government is producing one, but if you Google “National Farm Forestry Strategy” nothing appears!! We have had these strategies before and they have all failed. Let us wait and see!
And the biggest issue for me is the culture and attitude of the forest industry itself, and the “head-in-the sand” attitude of the marketplace!
Island Specialty Timbers (IST), the only source of competitive, transparent market blackwood log prices, conducted 10 log tenders during the year, making up for the shortfall last year due to the pandemic.
IST is a business enterprise of Sustainable Timber Tasmania (STT) which sources and retails raw material of Tasmanian specialty timbers from harvest or salvage operations conducted on State owned Permanent Timber Production Zone land (PTPZl).
You can read my previous annual tender summaries here:
2021 was the year that plain-grain blackwood sawlog broke the $1,000 per cubic metre price barrier!
Prices for good quality plain grain blackwood sawlogs have been sitting above $800 per cubic metres for the last few years, as seen in the chart below, but this year they broke through the price ceiling.
Premium plain grain sawlogs are what can be grown in blackwood plantations.
Will this result encourage Sustainable Timbers Tasmania/IST to put more blackwood sawlogs to tender?
Will this result capture the attention and imagination of Tasmanian farmers?
This year IST put 10 blackwood logs to tender, a total of 11.9 cubic metres, or 4.4% of the total volume put to tender for the year.
One log was unsold at tender, as was a 2 cubic metre pack of sawn blackwood boards.
Two logs had feature grain and sold between $1,250 and $1,300 per cubic metre.
The other 7 logs were plain grain, with prices ranging from $300 to $1,100 per cubic metre. Lower prices were paid for smaller logs and logs with defects (spiral grain, scars, branch knots).
Higher prices were paid for large, good quality logs.
All up the 8.14 cubic metres of plain grain blackwood logs sold for $4,259.
The following chart shows the average size characteristics of sold plain grain blackwood logs. The target sawlog for a blackwood plantation has a volume of 1.5 cubic metres and a small end diameter (SED) of around 50 cm.
Remember these are tiny log volumes sold into the small southern Tasmanian market. They represent mill door prices not stumpages.
As usual IST has a policy of minimising the amount of blackwood logs it puts to tender, despite the fact that around 10,000 cubic metres of blackwood are harvested from public native forests in Tasmania each year, and sold at “Government prices”.
Imagine if IST put 10 cubic metres of blackwood sawlog at each tender, to attract mainland and maybe even overseas buyers.
Imagine if Government forest policy was about profitable tree growers and not sawmill welfare.
Imagine what that change would do for the forest industry and Tasmania!
These positive blackwood log price signals should be resulting in more blackwood plantations being established, helping to build the industry and make Tasmanian farmers more profitable.
One hectare of well managed blackwood plantation has the potential to produce approx 300 cubic metres of premium sawlog after 30 – 35 years. At $1,000 per cubic metre that equates to $300,000 per ha in todays market.
How many Tasmanian farms have difficult corners, steep slopes and weedy areas that could be more productive growing quality wood?
Overall IST put 272 cubic metres of specialty timbers to tender in 2020-21 of which 252 cubic metres sold for total revenue of $262,700.
Last year Sustainable Timbers Tasmania sold 7,921 cubic metres of specialty timbers, so these competitive tender sales represent a mere 3% of specialty timber sales from public native forests in Tasmania.
The following chart shows the volume and price summary for all log tenders back to 2015. The price spike in the January 2021 tender was due to this tender being an all Huon pine (Lagarostrobos franklinii) tender.
The tiny volumes and wide variability in species and quality of logs that IST put to tender makes assessing trends over time difficult.
The next chart shows the average volume of the sold logs. Here there is a clear trend of diminishing log size. If it wasn’t for the occasional large eucalypt log IST throws into the tender mix, this trend of diminishing log size would be even more pronounced.
The following 2 charts show the above data summarised by year:
2020-21 was significant for a) the major increase in volume of specialty timbers put to tender, and b) a record unit price set for a single log at IST.
The record unit price of $5,300 per cubic metre was for a Black heart sassafras log at the March 2021 tender. The log was only 2.5 metres long with a volume of only 0.16 cubic metres, so total price was only $850!!
The highest price paid for a single log was at the same March 2021 tender where another Black heart sassafras log of 1.3 cubic metres sold for $5,570.
The main focus of IST tenders is black heart sassafras (Atherosperma moschatum) which can command very high prices for good logs.
However the tree is slow growing (500+ years to reach commercial size) and is restricted to rainforest and old growth eucalypt forest, so supplies of this species are dwindling.
Surprisingly the marketplace continues to support the plundering of Tasmania’s last ancient forests!
Five Year Review
Again it is important to recognise that this data represents tiny volumes sold into the small southern Tasmanian market. The results DO NOT represent the wider Tasmanian, Australian or international markets.
The results are also influenced by the fact that IST is NOT a commercial business. Like its parent Sustainable Timbers Tasmania, IST is NOT obliged to make a profit. These rare timber resources are brought to market at taxpayer expense.
Looking at the annual aggregate results of the IST tenders three trends are apparent:
the maximum price paid for quality wood is increasing; and
the volume unsold at tender is decreasing. Whether this is due to a) IST becoming better at excluding logs that will not sell, and/or b) increasing demand for quality wood, is unclear. The fact that both the average and minimum prices paid remain steady indicates better log selection rather than increasing demand. Certainly the quality of product put to tender by IST varies enormously.
the average price paid for quality wood has not changed over the last 5 years, remaining at around $1,000 per cubic metre.
The 7-year trend for plain grain blackwood logs is less clear, but the volumes are microscopic!
In general the prices paid for plain grain blackwood logs have been good, with indications in the last few years of solid price increases.
Since blackwood is the only Tasmanian specialty timber species that can be grown in commercial plantations, this is good news!
Will the Government and the forest industry make use of this valuable positive market information?
tells us everything we need to know about Tasmanian politics and corruption in Tasmania.
It certainly tells us everything we need to know about the forest industry in Tasmania.
The fact that Australia’s two largest retailers of this stolen property, Bunnings Hardware and Mitre 10 Hardware, are in complete support of this fraud is just another disturbing feature of the forest industry.
Back when I was reviewing Taylor Guitars blackwood models in chronological order I missed a rare gem!
Taylor has been researching and developing guitar electronics and pickup systems for many years.
This resulted in the Expression System 1 (ES1) in 2003 for Taylor acoustic guitars, followed in 2005 by the T5 hollowbody hybrid guitar in 2005, and the T3 semihollow body in 2009. Both the T5 and T3 models are still in production.
In 2007 the Taylor R&D had evolved to the point of developing pickups that suited solidbody guitars, so the decision was made to develop a range of solidbody electric guitars.
These were launched in 2008 with three models – Standard, Classic and Custom.
The initial Custom model had a Walnut top with Sapele body and neck(Wood & Steel Vol 54, p. 16).
The Custom model then quickly expanded to include a stunning Custom Koa/Blackwood model with a flamed Koa top and Tasmanian blackwood body and neck (Wood & Steel, Vol. 55, p. 18).
The Custom Koa model then changed to having a mahogany body and neck (Wood & Steel Vol 56, p. 33).
But as Taylor quickly discovered, breaking into the already crowded and conservative solidbody electric guitar market would be a long, hard battle.
On top of that the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) hit the world economy sending guitar sales plummeting.
From what I can find on the internet, Taylor put little effort into marketing and promoting their solidbody guitars, with the result that only 45 of these Custom Koa/Blackwood beauties were built (Taylor Guitars, pers. com). They are rare premium electric blackwood guitars.
The solidbody Custom models only lasted 2 years!
The Standard and Classic models died out in 2013!
“On a related note, you may notice the absence of our SolidBody from this year’s line. That’s because we wanted to take this year to explore some new design ideas. We’ll be sure to share new developments as they unfold.”
And with that simple statement in 2014 Taylor declared the end of their brief venture into the solidbody electric guitar market.
This recent commentary from the forest industry demonstrates yet again the arrogance, contempt and feral attitude that the industry shows towards the Australian community:
The Murrindindi Shire in the Central Highlands of Victoria is Ground Zero for public native welfare forestry in Victoria. Not surprisingly the local Murrindindi community are getting increasingly agitated and concerned about the impact forestry is having on their lives and livelihoods.