Blackwoods – selecting the best trees

NZFFA BROWN

Ian Brown is a blackwood grower and co-author of Blackwood A handbook for Growers and End Users, the New Zealand bible on all things blackwood.

He has recently written a fine update on blackwood research including some new findings about clonal blackwood. It is available on Ian’s blog on the New Zealand Farm Forestry Association website (link below):

https://www.nzffa.org.nz/nzffa-member-blogs/ian-browns-blog/blackwoods—selecting-the-best-trees/

Well worth reading.

Thanks Ian!!

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IST Tender Results 2018-19

It’s time for my annual summary of Island Specialty Timbers (IST) log tender results.

http://www.islandspecialtytimbers.com.au/

https://blackwoodgrowers.com.au/2018/07/07/ist-tender-results-2017-18/

This is the only competitive market, log price data publically available anywhere in Australia.

I began this series of articles in 2015 hoping to start a discussion in the community about forestry, log markets and prices, and the concept of profitable commercial tree growing.

I wonder if I’m succeeding?

Results

IST had a good tendering year in 2018-19 with both increasing sales and prices.

IST conducted 9 tenders during the year putting a total of 147 cubic metres of special species logs and craftwood to competitive tender, in the only transparent, competitive forest product market in Australia. Hooray for IST!!

The IST tender results for which I have data are shown in the following chart. As I’ve said previously it’s difficult to draw conclusions given the wide range in size and quality of products that IST puts to tender. Perhaps it could be said that maximum log prices seem to have increased over the last 18 months. The same can’t be said for average or minimum prices.

IST 2019 tender results

The following chart shows average sold log volume. There is a general trend of diminishing log size at IST that becomes obvious at the annual aggregate level…

Average sold log vol 2019

This year I’ve created the same charts as above but aggregated on an annual basis.

IST 2019 tender annual

2018-19 saw 147 cubic metres put to tender. 118 cubic metres were sold for total revenue of $150,860 at an average price of $1,276 per cubic metre. 29 cubic metres of sawlogs and craftwood were unsold at tender.

Standout results for 2018-19 was a 2.48 cubic metre black heart sassafras log that sold for $4,075 per cubic metre and a total price of $10,103 at the January 2019 tender!

The following chart confirms that log sizes are falling at IST, halving in the last 4 years! People are paying higher prices for smaller logs. Is this an indication of sustainability? I think not!

IST 2019 tender annual log vol

Blackwood

Log27 1018b

IST put a total of 14.7 cubic metres of blackwood logs to tender in 2018-19 of which 8.2 cubic metres sold. 4.8 cubic metres of the sold blackwood logs contained figured grain, the remaining logs were plain (straight) grain. The following chart shows annual plain grain, blackwood sawlog tender results for which I have data. These are tiny volumes in a small domestic Tasmanian market.

IST 2019 blackwood prices

The chart shows a steady increase in average tender price for plain grain blackwood sawlogs over the last three years. The average price in 2018-19 was $727/m3! Also note that good quality plain grain blackwood logs have been selling for over $800/m3 for a the last few years.

At these prices a well managed blackwood plantation is worth over $200,000 (at mill door) per ha after 30 years!

My focus is plain grain (as distinct from feature grain) sawlogs because these are equivalent to what can be grown in a well managed commercial blackwood plantation. The target blackwood plantation sawlog is pruned to over 6m height with a volume of 1.5 cubic metres, and a small end diameter (SED) of 50 – 55 cm depending upon stem taper.

The following chart shows the average volume and small end diameter of plain grain blackwood logs sold by IST at tender. These logs are equivalent in volume and SED to what can be grown in a commercial blackwood plantation.

IST 2019 blackwood vol SED

Standout blackwood results for the year were:

  1. A massive 3.1 cubic metre figured grain log that sold for $800/m3 for a total price of $2480;
  2. A 1.5 cubic metre plain grain log that sold for $800/m3 for a total price of $1200. This log measured 5.5m length, 52cm SED 75cm LED. This is equivalent to a target blackwood plantation log.

Given that blackwood comprises 95+% of all special species harvested from public native forest, IST tenders very little blackwood.

Tasmanian blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon) is the only special species product sold by IST for which this market data has any real relevance. Unlike the other species that IST sells, blackwood can be grown commercially in plantations. The Tasmanian Government is doing all it can to discourage landowners from growing commercial blackwood!

IST Price Archive

IST’s price archive table (see below) is out of date, as the above chart indicates.

IST blackwood price summary

Good quality plain grain blackwood logs are selling for >$800/m3.

As for short, plain grain logs here’s a chart showing the relationship between price and log length for the last 5+ years. Good luck if you can see any trend in that. I see short plain grain blackwood logs going for very good prices!

PriceVSlength

Blackwood logs with feature grain (birds-eye, fiddle-back, etc) can range between $200 and $2,900 / m3 depending upon the size of the log and the presence of other defects.

Caveats

  • These tender prices are effectively mill door prices that already include harvesting and transport costs. They are NOT stumpage prices.
  • Island Specialty Timbers (IST) is an enterprise of Forestry Tasmania Sustainable Timbers Tasmania established in 1992 to increase the recovery, availability and value of specialty timbers from harvesting activities in State forests.
  • Forestry Tasmania Sustainable Timbers Tasmania manages its special timbers operations (including IST) as a taxpayer-funded, non-commercial, non-profit, community service. Each cubic metre of blackwood log harvested by Forestry Tasmania received a taxpayer subsidy of $90! No private blackwood grower received any taxpayer subsidy.
  • Note that all logs and wood sold by IST come from the harvesting of public native old-growth forest and rainforest certified under AFS (PEFC).
  • It is unlikely that this tiny set of market-based blackwood log prices is representative of the broader blackwood market.

Indian Rosewood

And speaking of prices I must include my story from April about the record Indian Rosewood log price:

https://blackwoodgrowers.com.au/2019/04/15/rosewood-log-gets-record-price/

Assuming this is a plain grain rosewood log it is an extraordinary price of $AUD14,400 per cubic metre!

FSC supports illegal forestry in Australia

The following constitutes my submission to SCS Global Services as part of its assessment of Sustainable Timber Tasmania for FSC Certification.

https://blackwoodgrowers.com.au/2019/04/10/public-notification/

FSC2

https://au.fsc.org/en-au

https://www.sttas.com.au/

http://www.scsglobalservices.com/

The idea that public native forestry in Tasmania is “environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial and economically viable” (FSC’s very own criteria!) is complete and utter fantasy.

Just the history of the industry over the last 5 years demonstrates the hypocrisy of this idea, never mind the forestry wars of the last 40+ years!!

The above image is taken from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) website. Unfortunately none of these three titles on the FSC website are live/linked. You can’t click to find out what the FSC means by “Environmentally Appropriate” or “Economically Viable”. So I typed “Economically Viable” into their search box and I got this result:

EcoVia

FSC “could not find any results”!!

I think the FSC has got some issues to resolve.

Luckily I have a clue as to what the FSC means by “economically viable” from the last time Forestry Tasmania attempted to gain FSC certification. The following quote comes from SCS Global Services website:

Can a company that operates at a loss achieve certification?

The FSC certification standard requires that a forest management entity have sufficient financial resources [taxpayer subsidies] to manage the defined forest area in conformance with the full scope of the standard.  The standard does not require that the certified forest is managed at a profit provided that other sources of working capital [taxpayer subsidies] are available and sufficient [$ billions] to enable management in conformance with the standard.

https://www.scsglobalservices.com/news/scs-responds-to-questions-about-the-forestry-tasmania-fsc-forest-management-assessment

So the FSC defines “economically viable” as pretty much anything, including major loss-making public native forestry.

The problem is, under Australian law that is ILLEGAL!!!!!!!

It’s called Competitive Neutrality, and I wrote a blog about it back in 2016:

https://blackwoodgrowers.com.au/2016/10/17/competitive-neutrality-in-forestry/

It is Tasmania’s view that all the State’s PTEs and PFEs, together with its GBEs, are significant Government businesses for the purposes of the CPA. Accordingly, in applying the competitive neutrality principles, significant Government business enterprises are defined as those enterprises which are classified as PTEs, PFEs and/or GBEs.

https://www.economicregulator.tas.gov.au/Documents/Competitive%20Neutrality%20Principles%20Guidelines%20June%201996.pdf

This includes FT/STT.

In 1995 Australia’s governments agreed to the National Competition Policy (NCP) and Related Reforms.

http://ncp.ncc.gov.au/pages/home

The problem is many of those reforms have never been implemented, or have since been watered down.

FT/STT is a classic example!

It was corporatized according to NCP policy, but it has never been run as a commercial business. And yet it competes in the marketplace against private tree growers.

FT/STT has never publically acknowledged that it is a Government business competing in the marketplace against private forest growers both here in Tasmania and on the mainland

FT/STT has never publically acknowledged the need for it to behave in a competitively neutral manner.

FT/STT has never had any Competitive Neutrality Policies and objectives…..ever!

And every week that FT/STT gets another taxpayer handout is another breach of Australia’s Trade Practices Laws.

The fact that FT/STT has never been prosecuted illustrates the broken nature of Australia’s political system, and a conflicted forest industry.

The NCP does not discuss what should be done with Government businesses that cannot survive in a commercial world, businesses like FT/STT.

The FSC does not say where these “other sources” of money may come from or place any limits on the extent of subsidisation.

I wonder what economists think of this idea?

I wonder what private forest owners who compete in the marketplace against loss-making, forest squandering Sustainable Timber Tasmania think of this idea?

So Sustainable Timber Tasmania passes the FSC “economically viable” criteria with flying colors! What a joke!!

Never mind the long suffering Tasmanian taxpayer, or the lowly paid Tasmanian public servant!

The last 20 years

Last year this article appeared in a major Australian news media site detailing the extent of commercial losses from public native forestry in Tasmania:

JL

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/mar/29/tasmanian-forest-agreement-delivers-13bn-losses-in-giant-on-taxpayers

And that analysis was using FT’s own accounting methods!

If FT had to do its accounting like a private forest grower (ie. Competitive neutrality) the losses would be far greater. What private forest grower can value its entire land estate at $0.00??

No doubt the FSC would see this article as glowing praise for world class forest management!!

Greenpeace

The environmental organisation Greenpeace was one of the founding partners of the FSC. In March last year Greenpeace resigned from the FSC citing ongoing and significant issues with the way the FSC was being managed:

https://blackwoodgrowers.com.au/2018/03/30/greenpeace-leaves-the-forest-stewardship-council-fsc/

With Greenpeace gone it now seems that the FSC is moving towards becoming another forest industry rubber stamping organisation like the PEFC.

Buying FSC certified wood products does not save the world’s forests.

New Zealand

Imagine if this response on economic viability was given within a New Zealand context, where the forest industry is fully commercial and profitable?

“Yeah we just waste taxpayers money to grow trees and give them away! Who cares about farmers?”

New Zealand farmers would be marching on their Parliament House to bring down the Government!

Here in Tasmania? Not a whisper of protest!

Bunnings

Bunnings, Australia’s largest timber retailer, is threatening to stop selling public native forest products next year (2020) unless the products achieve FSC certification.

https://blackwoodgrowers.com.au/2018/08/04/bunnings-finally-takes-a-stand/

The marketplace is finally saying “enough is enough”!

For both Vicforests and STT this is crunch time!

Wind up

Four years ago former State politician Sue Smith called for the winding up of FT/STT. How she described the forest industry then is still the same today, but worse.

https://www.themercury.com.au/news/politics/former-mlc-sue-smith-urges-forestry-tasmania-windup/news-story/50272c2ae1798a9358999278b5563073?fbclid=IwAR2YxZMeGSksYF7eI5NxmEmnPxYe2BQ3a8vUdCmr38t1hclWC7tS3JqC-xc

How in anyone’s imagination can this agency achieve FSC certification?

Blackwood

Who is going to grow commercial blackwood when the Tasmania State government and STT waste taxpayers money giving away public native forest blackwood, supported by taxpayer subsidies and the Forest Stewardship Council?

Nothing has changed

Sustainable Timbers Tasmania does not have a business plan, nor does it have commercial objectives.

Neither does it apologise every year for its continuing waste of Tasmanian taxpayers money.

“This is the number of teachers and nurses you missed out on this year thanks to our activities. But don’t worry! We are sustainable!!”

Nothing has changed.

But from my perspective it is the failed economics of public native forestry that is the primary reason that Tasmania will never have a Tasmanian Blackwood Growers Cooperative.

If the FSC “Economic Viability” criteria are so easy to achieve, one must assume the other two criteria – “Environmentally Appropriate” and “Socially Beneficial” – are just a walk in the park!

As a forester I believe this is about the worst possible outcome for the forest industry. It is certainly the worst possible outcome for the Tasmanian community.

  1. And finally, who gets to pay for STT’s FSC assessment? That’s right! The long suffering Tasmanian taxpayer. Show me a private forest grower who has their FSC assessment paid for by the taxpayer. Answer! NONE!!

PPS. STT is just the forest manager. The State Government owns the forests! The same State Government that wants to log the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. The same State Government that IS logging ancient rainforests in Conservation Reserves. For the FSC to certify STT would be an even bigger act of hypocrisy than that of the Tasmanian State Government. The Tasmanian Government determines Forest Policy NOT Sustainable Timbers Tasmania!!

When will Tasmania get a real forest industry based on profitable private tree growers?

Taylor Presentation Series (PS) Tasmanian blackwood

Taylor PS12ce

The first of the Taylor Presentation Series Tasmanian blackwood models are starting to appear after they were announced in the latest Wood & Steel magazine back in January.

https://blackwoodgrowers.com.au/2019/01/29/tasmanian-blackwood-makes-it-to-the-top-of-the-taylor-tree/

They still haven’t appeared on the Taylor website yet:

https://www.taylorguitars.com/

These are top-of-the-line guitars for people with deep pockets and a love of bling.

Here is a PS12ce with V-class bracing currently at Empire Music in Mt Lebanon, Pennsylvania, USA:

http://empiremusiconline.com/products-page/acoustic-guitar/taylor-ps12ce-first-article-v-class-adirondack-blackwood-18131/#!prettyPhoto[58454]/3/

I like the fact they have given the blackwood the edgeburst effect. I just wish they would use flamed blackwood for the headstock facing instead of ebony.

As I said in my January post for Tasmanian farmers to get their product into the top of the market should be an occasion for recognition and celebration.

Unfortunately that is not how wood markets operate.

Is this extraordinary market achievement resulting in more blackwood being planted by Tasmanian farmers?

Surely it should!

Utilising market forces (price, supply, demand, achievements, etc.) to help drive the future of the blackwood industry should be the backbone of industry and Government policy.

Instead market demand just helps the Tasmanian Government/Parliament justify logging public native blackwood forest in our Conservation Reserves!

https://blackwoodgrowers.com.au/2017/10/23/tasmanian-rainforest-plunder/

Thankfully this is not where Taylor Guitars source their blackwood timber, which comes from Tasmanian Tonewoods salvaged from Tasmanian farms.

https://tasmaniantonewoods.com/

Congratulations to Taylor Guitars and to Tasmanian Tonewoods!

What a great achievement!!

We just need to complete the story….

The burning of Notre Dame and Tasmanian Special Timbers

NotreDameFire

The burning of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris on 15/4/2019 provides the perfect metaphor for the continuing destruction of Tasmania’s natural heritage.

The world was horrified that the 800 year old World Heritage Listed cathedral was on fire. How could humanity lose such a treasure?

But here in Tasmania 800+ year old heritage is destroyed every single day!

Here in Tasmania 800+ year old trees are cut down every day, at taxpayer expense, to provide a lowly subsistence for the rent seekers in the Tasmanian special timbers industry; sawmillers, furniture makers, luthiers, craftsmen, shop keepers, etc..

Trees such as Celery Top Pine (Phyllocladus aspleniifolius) and Myrtle (Nothofagus cunninghamii) live within Tasmania’s cool temperate rainforest and can live for 800-1000 years, germinating long before Bishop Maurice de Sully commenced the construction of Notre Dame in 1160.

Some of these trees are even in designated Conservation Reserves that were specifically established to protect these very same ancient trees and forests.

Such is the perverse corrupt nature of public native forestry and politics in the island State of Tasmania.

https://www.stategrowth.tas.gov.au/energy_and_resources/forestry/special_species_timber_management_plan

The public response to the damage at Notre Dame has been nothing but extraordinary. €100s millions have been pledged by individuals to rebuild Notre Dame and restore this international treasure.

Meanwhile in Tasmania these 800+ year old trees are destroyed with no process transparency, no FSC certification, at considerable public expense and no thought for the heritage that is being destroyed.

These people are the Notre Dame arsonists of Tasmania:

http://livingwoodtasmania.org.au/

https://www.facebook.com/TasmanianSpecialTimbersAlliance/

and many, many more. They number in the thousands in Tasmania!

Rosewood log gets record price

RosewoodLog

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kozhikode/rosewood-log-gets-record-price/articleshow/66172798.cms

This recent article in the Times of India caught my attention. That’s not surprising given my interest in log markets and prices.

The Indian Government has tight controls over the harvesting and sale of logs. These logs were Government owned. The Government retained the rights to the trees when the land was subdivided and sold.

The various State forest agencies in India conduct regular log auctions with the objective of improving market transparency, reducing corruption, and maximising the value adding for its forest products.

That’s right! Unlike here in Australia, the Government of India is not interested in subsidising sawmillers, boat builders and craftspeople.

East Indian Rosewood (Dalbergia latifolia) is a high value timber, and these numbers certainly confirm that.

Species: East Indian Rosewood (Dalbergia latifolia)

Log Class: I

Girth (cm): 246

Diameter (cm): 78

Length (m): 3.1

Volume (m3): 1.49

Unit price ($AUD): $14,400

Total price ($AUD): $21,500

No comment is made about the wood grain of the log, whether it was straight or feature grain.

I’ve converted the Indian prices to Australian dollar prices.

The log was purchased by Gemwood a company that amongst other products specialises in supplying the international tonewood market.

http://www.gemwood.com/

I wonder what impact such transparent competitive log prices have on the planting of trees in India? Do Indian farmers really plant rosewood trees knowing that in 100 years time someone will make money harvesting the trees? Do they appreciate that the rosewood trees they harvest today are due to the far-sighted benevolence of people 100 years ago?

In my 40 years as a forester I’ve never seen a newspaper article like this in Australia. That is because the forest industry in Australia believes that log prices and competitive transparent markets have no part to play in the industry’s future.

Across the Tasman Sea the very successful New Zealand forest industry has the opposite viewpoint.

Will we ever see prices like these for Australian logs?

And if we did would it have any impact on the tree-planting behaviour of our farming community?

When will Australia get a real forest industry?

PS. Just discovered this earlier news article about the harvesting of these rosewood trees. Certainly makes for an interesting story.

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kozhikode/centuries-old-rosewood-trees-in-wayanad-face-the-axe/articleshow/63791118.cms

Public Notification

To:          Interested Parties

From:    SCS Global Services

Date:     8 April 2019

Re:         Notification of Planned FSC Certification Evaluation of Sustainable Timber Tasmania

Summary:  As part of an upcoming Forest Stewardship Council™ (FSC®) certification evaluation, SCS is currently seeking stakeholder input regarding the forest management program and practices of Sustainable Timber Tasmania.  Please comment via email or contact our offices (contact information below).

In pursuit of Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) endorsed forest management certification, Sustainable Timber Tasmania will be undergoing an audit on the full weeks of 20 and 27 May 2019.  The audit will be conducted by SCS Global Services, a FSC-accredited certification body. The Forest Stewardship Council is a non-profit organization devoted to encouraging the responsible management of the world’s forests. FSC sets standards that ensure forestry is practiced in an environmentally responsible, socially beneficial, and economically viable way.

Sustainable Timber Tasmania (STT) is a Tasmanian Government Business Enterprise responsible for sustainably managing  public production forest (Permanent Timber Production Zone land) and undertaking forest operations for the production and sale of forest products from these forests.

The 812 000 ha PTPZ land is approximately 12% of the Tasmanian land area. PTPZ land includes 375,000 ha of native forest that is available for wood production. It also includes 120,000 ha that contributes to Tasmania’s Comprehensive, Adequate and Representative Reserve system and a further 200,000 ha of non-production forest. STT manages 28,000 ha of plantation, comprising both hardwood eucalypts and softwood.

STT is seeking FSC certification for approximately 713,000 ha, the remaining PTPZ land area is managed either by third parties or is not eligible for FSC Forest Management certification due to its plantation conversion history.

Scope and Certification Evaluation Process

SCS Global Services (SCS), a FSC-accredited certification body based in California, will conduct this FSC Main Evaluation.

Performance will be evaluated against the The FSC National Forest Stewardship Standard of Australia (v1-0; 2018).  A copy of the standard is attached to this message.

The evaluation process includes the following components:

  • Public notification: distribution of the standard and solicitation of comments on the certification applicant; Audit planning and document review;
  • Field assessment: A representative sample of field sites and operations within the defined forest area are inspected by a team of auditors;
  • Stakeholder consultation is carried out prior to and during the field assessment;
  • Synthesis of findings: conformity to the standard is ascertained and the certification decision is formulated;
  • Reporting: a draft report describing the evaluation process, findings, and certification decision is produced;
  • Peer review: the draft evaluation report is peer reviewed by 2 independent natural resource professionals;
  • Finalization of the report and conveyance to the SCS Certification Committee for the final certification decision;
  • Certification decision: the final report and certification decision is conveyed to the applicant; a public summary of the certification report is released if certification is awarded.

Call for Public Participation

SCS is seeking comments on the forest management of Sustainable Timber Tasmania or other topics pertinent to their seeking FSC certification, such as whether Sustainable Timber Tasmania complies with the legal, social, technical, and environmental requirements of the standard or identification of high conservation value forests[1] within its managed lands.  Comments can be submitted via email to FSCConsultation@scsglobalservices.com, standard mail, or facsimile. All comments and sources will be kept in strict confidence at the request of the commenter.  Also, please feel welcome to forward this message on to other stakeholders that you think may have an interest in sharing their perspective on this assessment.

Date of the Evaluation

The field evaluation is scheduled to start 20 May 2019.  When possible, SCS will make arrangements to meet with interested parties during the evaluation if appropriate, but it is preferred that comments are submitted before the field evaluation commences.

Dispute Resolution Procedure

As provided by the FSC Interim Dispute Resolution Protocol and the SCS Forest Conservation Program Quality Manual, dispute resolution procedures are in place and available to interested parties at http://www.scsglobalservices.com/your-feedback.

Additional Information

More information about FSC and SCS can be obtained from www.fsc.org and www.SCSglobalServices.com. Information about Sustainable Timber Tasmania can be found athttps://www.sttas.com.au/.

Please Contact Us
Robert Hrubes Brendan Grady
FSC Lead Auditor SCS Director of Forest Management
2000 Powell St, Suite 600; Emeryville CA 94608, USA
Tel +1 (510)452-8034, Fax +1 (510) 452-6882
FSCConsultation@scsglobalservices.com

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Evan Poirson | Program Associate, Forest Management Certification