IST Tender Results 2021-22

This is my annual summary of Island Specialty Timbers (IST) log tender results.

Island Specialty Timbers is the only source of competitive, transparent log prices anywhere in Australia, including blackwood sawlog prices.

That simple statement tells us a great deal about the dire condition of the forest industry in Australia.

https://www.islandspecialtytimbers.com.au/

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).

IST is not really a “business” just as the State forest agency Sustainable Timber Tasmania is not a business either. Logging of public native forest in Tasmania requires significant taxpayer subsidies every year.

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

You can read my previous annual tender summaries here:

https://blackwoodgrowers.com.au/?s=tender

IST conducted 10 log tenders during the year with 286 cubic metres of special species logs put to public tender.  Tasmania defines “special species” as any native forest timber apart from plain grain Tasmanian oak.

Blackwood Results

This is the important bit……

2022 was another champagne year for blackwood, continuing the strong market demand and prices from 2021.

2021 was the year that plain-grain blackwood sawlog broke the $1,000 per cubic metre price barrier. 2022 continued that trend with a record price of $1,150 per cubic metre.

The chart below shows blackwood sales results for the year.

A total of 15 blackwood logs (21.7 cubic metres) were put to tender this year, all of it plain grain. All logs were sold, for an average price of $643 per cubic metre, or a total of $13,950. Average log volume was 1.45 cubic metres – a good size sawlog!

A stand-out result for the year was a massive 2.46 cubic metre blackwood log that sold for $925 per cubic metre, with a total price of $2,276!

The above chart shows a return to strong demand and strong prices for quality plain grain blackwood sawlogs following the pandemic year of 2019-20, with maximum and average prices showing strong increases.

This is the greatest volume of blackwood that IST has put to tender for quite some time, despite the fact that blackwood makes up more than 90% of special species harvested from public native forest in Tasmania. Generally ~9,000 cubic metres of blackwood is harvested annually with 99.999% being sold at heavily discounted Government prices on long term sales contracts.

The Tasmanian government dominates and undermines the blackwood log and timber market. These log tender results need to be interpreted bearing this fact in mind.

Premium plain grain sawlogs are what can be grown in blackwood plantations.

Will this result capture the attention and imagination of Tasmanian farmers?

The following chart shows the average size characteristics of plain grain blackwood logs sold at IST tender. The target sawlog from a blackwood plantation has a volume of 1.5 cubic metres and a small end diameter (SED) of around 50 cm.

Remember these IST tender sales represent tiny log volumes sold into the small southern Tasmanian market. They represent mill door prices not stumpages.

Imagine if IST put 10 cubic metres of blackwood sawlog at each tender (100 cubic metres per year) to attract mainland and maybe even overseas buyers.

Imagine if State government forest policy was about profitable tree growers and not sawmill welfare.

Imagine what that change would do for the forest industry and Tasmanian farmers!

These positive blackwood log market 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.

General Results

Overall IST put 286 cubic metres of specialty timbers to tender in 2021-22 of which 13.8 cubic metres was not sold. Total tender revenue was $230,400.

Last year Sustainable Timbers Tasmania sold 8,825 cubic metres of specialty timbers, so these competitive tender sales represent a mere 3% of specialty timber sales from public native forests in Tasmania.

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

With the exception of the July 2021 and May 2022 tenders, the tender results were poor with maximum and average prices well down on previous years (see chart below).

The July 2021 tender was dominated by Black heart sassafras logs which generally attract high prices, whilst the May 2022 tender was dominated by Black heart sassafras, Tiger myrtle and figured Huon pine, all of which are premium species attracting premium prices. These tender results show that the market is still prepared to pay premium prices for rare, quality logs.

It was at the latter tender that a new record IST tender price was set for a special species sawlog. This log was a 0.94 cubic metre Tiger myrtle log that sold for $6,100 per cubic metre, total price $5,734!

The following chart shows the volume and price summary for 57 log tenders back to 2015.

The tiny volumes and wide variability in species and quality of logs that IST put to tender makes assessing market 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 last 12 months shows a steady decline in log size so it is not surprising that prices have reflected a general decline in log quality.

The following 2 charts show the above data summarised by year:

Continuing the trend from last year 2021-22 saw a “significant” volume of specialty species logs put to tender. Despite the higher volumes, average prices have declined, probably in part due to declining log quality.

The average price for all species put to tender in 2022 was $844 per cubic metre, well down from $1,043 per cubic metre in 2021.

The above chart shows a steady rise over the last 4 years in the maximum price paid for these dwindling ancient timber resources, whilst average and minimum prices remain relatively steady.

The main focus of IST tenders is black heart sassafras (Atherosperma moschatum) which can command very high prices for good logs. It made up 35% of log volume put to tender in 2022.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atherosperma

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.

Blackwood made up just 8% of the volume IST put to tender.

Unfortunately the marketplace continues to show strong support for the plundering of the last of Tasmania’s ancient forests!

Through the Looking-Glass

Last Friday 18th February I attended a workshop run by Private Forests Tasmania (PFT) to review the current PFT Draft Strategic Plan.

https://www.treealliance.com.au/

I have been to these kinds of industry meetings before and am familiar with the conversations and outcomes.

I went along with no expectations.

Sadly I was not disappointed!!

Entering the workshop I felt very like Alice climbing through the looking-glass. I felt reality snap.

I looked around expecting to see the Mad Hatter. Thankfully the Minister had not been invited.

https://www.guybarnett.com.au/

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

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

Taylor Guitars says goodbye!

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.

https://www.taylorguitars.com/guitars/acoustic/features/woods/body-woods/tasmanian-blackwood

https://blackwoodgrowers.com.au/category/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.

Alas no!

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.

https://fb.watch/bisYsyb-k8/

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.

Facing the inevitable

Back in 2013 I wrote this piece about Murray Kidman and his business Otway Tonewoods:

Murray has been running a small business harvesting blackwood from public native forest in the Otway Ranges in south west Victoria, supplying the tonewood market.

As I said back then, Murray has been operating on borrowed time with the inevitable closure of public native welfare forestry in Victoria.

That time has now come.

But Murray and his son James are determined to fight to the last!

They have started a petition calling for the continuation of public native welfare forestry in Victoria:

https://www.otwaytonewoods.com.au/pages/petition

Murray’s two main customers, Maton and Cole Clark, are remaining silent about the situation. They understand the risks involved in wading into the deeply divisive Forestry Wars.

It is likely that most guitarists would favour saving our public native forests from logging vs saving the Kidman business.

How can you claim your business is sustainable when clearly the tonewood market is anything but sustainable?

The story of Otway Tonewoods is just another step on the long slow decline of the tonewood market in Australia. The music marketplace refuses to take any responsibility for its own future.

How many people in Australia own a guitar or other musical instrument made from wood? How many of these people make a living from their music?

How many music festivals are there in Australia?

How many music shops are there in Australia?

All of this will disappear unless someone starts growing tonewoods and is openly supported by the marketplace!

Sitting on our hands waiting for politicians or someone else to fix the problem just wont work.

Trying to prop up a failed industry (public native welfare forestry) wont work.

It is disappointing that neither Maton nor Cole Clark wont even start a conversation about the future supply of tonewoods. Crisis! What crisis??

They want us to believe that the future supply of tonewoods is completely under control. Is the shutting down of Otway Tonewoods part of their sustainable future?

When will the marketplace wake up?

It can’t whilst Maton and Cole Clark continue their current charades.

With all due respect to Murray and James Kidman, their social license is about to expire with no option for renewal.

Will it be a turning point for the music industry in Australia?

I sincerely hope so!!

National Farm Forestry Strategy

https://haveyoursay.awe.gov.au/national-farm-forestry-strategy

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.

Species, locations, markets, prices, supply, demand, costs, etc..

It is not about providing subsided logs to local businesses!

Competitive transparent markets must be supported, including log export markets.

In New Zealand no one talks about farm forestry, because in NZ the Government plays no part in the forest industry. Farmers growing trees IS the forest industry in New Zealand.

Anyway the NFFS survey has 12 simple questions

The survey closes on 17 December 2021.

Good luck!

Creating a functional wood market in Australia

Farm grown blackwood timber at Ceres Fair Wood, Melbourne. $10,000 per cubic metre. Ceres Fair Wood is one of the few businesses in Australia that cares about the future of quality wood.

The Past/Present

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.

The Future

There are plenty of challenges that need to be addressed in order to build proper functioning wood markets but they are not insurmountable.

  1. 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.

https://australianfurniture.org.au/

Is the AFA up to the challenge?

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!

So dear reader, what do you think?

Comments and ideas welcome.

If not native jarrah, where does WA get its hardwood?

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-10-29/jarrah-price-spike-spurs-indonesian-hardwood-imports/100575880

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!!

Open letter: FSC is no longer fit for purpose and must urgently reform

You MUST read this letter!!

This letter speaks for itself!

https://www.earthsight.org.uk/news/blog-open-letter-fsc-no-longer-fit-for-purpose-and-must-urgently-reform

It certainly confirms my own experience with and observation of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) over the last 30 years.

The logging industry has taken over the FSC and corrupted it!

The PEFC/Responsible Wood is even worse!!

As a means of saving the world’s forests third party certification has failed!

This article in The Guardian is also relevant:

https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/jul/16/ethical-labels-not-fit-for-purpose-report-warns-consumers

All of this is not surprising!

Paying someone else to manage your integrity, when there is money involved, was always bound to fail.

So how DO we save the world’s forests if third party certification isn’t the answer?

Freeman Interview

Hi Graham,

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.

Species include: Sequoia Sempervirens, Eucalyptus Regnans, Pinus Radiata, Cupressus Macrocarpa, Cupressus Lusitanica, Cupressocyparis Leylandii, Thuja Plicata, Psuedotsuga Menziesii, Chamaecyparis Lawsonia.

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!

Kind regards

Graham and Judy

Thankyou Graham for your time, and may your tree-growing efforts not go unrewarded.

The Guitar: Tracing the Grain Back to the Tree

Chris Gibson and Andrew Warren

https://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/G/bo81816665.html

I finally got around to reading this book by Chris Gibson and Andrew Warren.

It will never make the Best Seller List, which is a shame because every person who owns a guitar should read it. That small piece of wooden magic in your hands has a very uncertain future.

Which is why every music festival should have a focus on encouraging farmers to grow tonewoods. Before the magic disappears!

https://theconversation.com/friday-essay-the-guitar-industrys-hidden-environmental-problem-and-the-people-trying-to-fix-it-159211

The Table of Contents gives a good idea of how the story goes.

Introduction

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

Acknowledgments

Notes

Index

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.