Monthly Archives: March 2012

Blackwood Cooperative ignored in landmark report

Growing blackwood in farm forestry plantations as an option to secure and counter the declining supply from public native forest was omitted from the recently leaked report into the IGA wood supply scenarios. The 97 page report “Review of Tasmanian Forest Estate Wood Supply Scenarios” by Mark Burgman and Andrew Robinson was recently leaked to the media, with the final version being officially released today. It analyses many wood supply options and possibilities both plantation and native forest, both public and private, for the eucalypt hardwood resource. But it devotes just over one page (p. 9-10) to the issue of so called “special species”.

On the subject of blackwood it notes that beyond 2019 the supply of blackwood sawlog from public native forest is not clear, with a strong likelihood that the supply will diminish. And that’s it!

No mention of the proposal to grow blackwood in farm forestry plantations, which would not only counter the declining supply from public native forest, but would actually grow the blackwood industry many times larger than it has ever been.

The blackwood growers cooperative is the only positive proposal for the future of the forest industry in Tasmania that has yet emerged out of the IGA mess. The proposal was first made public in May last year. And still it continues to be ignored by the negotiators and the politicians.

This is just extraordinary, and very disappointing.

I have written to the authors of the report and Professor Jonathan West expressing my extreme disappointment at this omission. I hope I will receive some measure of explanation and some means whereby this error can be remedied.

The Tasmanian Blackwood Growers Cooperative must be placed on the IGA table of options to be seriously considered in the future supply of this valuable Tasmanian timber resource.

My March trip around the north


It was great touring around the north last week visiting people. Apologies to those people I missed seeing. You are at the top of my list for the next visit north. Here are a few of my observations from the trip.

1.    North East Tasmania

It’s not often I get to tour the north east. Most of my travels seem to take me to the north west. What I really appreciated this time was the great potential of the region for growing blackwood. Many farms in the high rainfall areas of the north east have areas suitable for growing blackwood, that are currently being used for rough grazing or are covered in the usual bracken and blackberries. One dairy farm I visited was a perfect example – intensively managed flat land, but plenty of steep slopes and back corners that are ideal for growing blackwood. I can’t see why the north east couldn’t support 1000 ha of blackwood plantation. That may not seem much, but that area would supply annual blackwood sawlog volumes equivalent to what is currently produced from native forest in Tasmania! There are also plenty of farms with existing native blackwood that could be managed for sustainable wood production.

2.    North West

Touring around the back roads of the north west is always a pleasure, especially when the weather is great. Visiting Gilles Carrabin and his excellent example of plantation blackwood was inspiring. It just shows what passion and commitment can do. I also saw plenty of land that could be growing plantation blackwood (like in the above photo), even in the most intensively managed areas; areas that are currently underutilised.  If only we can get the ball rolling.

3.    Connecting with the rural community

Most people I spoke to expressed interest in and support for a blackwood growers cooperative. I drove around to many small local shops where I posted flyers. This made me appreciate the difficult task of both engaging with the rural community. There are lots of people who recognise blackwood is a Tasmanian icon and have some idea of its commercial potential, but taking the next step towards commercial development will obviously take time and effort. Having a few local success stories like Gilles Carrabin will obviously help promote interest, but I need to try and locate other farmers who are successfully growing blackwood. I can then hopefully organise a field day based around these properties, with the owners permission. Hopefully the politicians will then recognise the degree of community interest and support.

4.    General

I was surprised by the general sentiment of people towards the current state of the forest industry. I have been thinking that trying to get support and interest for a new commercial forestry venture in the current climate would be difficult. Many people certainly understand that the industry needs to change, but despite the current industry malaise, many people expressed optimism that the forest industry has a great future in Tasmania provided the ongoing conflict can be resolved. Many people expressed concern as to whether the current players were up to that task.

5.    Next trip

I already have the start of an itinerary for my next trip north. Once I get a few more enquiries I’ll schedule a trip.


Carrabin blackwood plantation continued…….


A big part of the blackwood cooperative (if we get funding) will be sharing experiences in growing blackwood, both the successes AND the failures. Only by sharing can we gain greater understanding and confidence.

Having previously reported on this plantation based on photos and emails supplied by the owner I can now provide an update based on my visit in March 2012. This is one of the very few successful blackwood plantations in Tasmania, and is a testament to the care and dedication of the owner Gilles Carrabin. Gilles is not only passionate about his trees, he is a joiner/builder/cabinetmaker with a great love of fine timber.

The plantation is not without problems, but with continued care and management this plantation will eventually produce high quality blackwood timber. Most of the intensive management has been completed. The major task now is to carefully thin the plantation down to a final stocking and watch the blackwoods grow.

Site selection and establishment

The plantation is approximately 0.5 ha in area. Originally I assumed the site was on red basalt soils, but I was wrong. Nevertheless the deep clay loams still support tall eucalypt forest nearby. At time of planting no soil preparation was done, no fertiliser added, but weeds were sprayed. Blackwoods were planted at 2x2m spacing (=2,500 trees per hectare!!) to try and control branching and promote good stem form. Protection for from browsing was provided by mesh fencing around the site and 900mm tall tubular Corflute® tree guards. Trees were mulched. Two different blackwood seed sources were planted. The blackwoods were originally interplanted with Silver wattle as a nurse crop, but these grew so quickly that they were removed after a few years.

The plantation has a cypress hedge on the western boundary which was planted some years prior to the plantation been established. This has provided valuable shelter from the prevailing strong winds, with a single row Eucalyptus nitens hedge planted along the southern boundary. Shelter from strong winds is critical in ensuring good growth and stem form are achieved in plantation blackwood.  Of particular interest is that the blackwoods planted next to the cypress hedge show no signs of reduced growth or vigour from competing with the pre-existing hedge.

Another advantage of the chosen site is that it adjoins a public road, so that come harvest time, access for machinery will be easier.


Gilles has focused enormous effort on ensuring the blackwoods have good stem form and small branches. No thinning has yet been done and there has been little mortality. Every single tree has been pruned to 5-6 metres. This is an incredible effort given that 92% of the existing trees will need to be removed to allow the best 200 trees per hectare grow to final commercial size. Perhaps not the most efficient way to achieve the desired end result, but given the uncertainty and blackwoods reputation as a difficult tree to control, a very understandable approach.

The strong focus on achieving good stem form has come at the expense of diameter growth. The current trees range in diameter from 3 – 20 cm dbh with a probable average of 4-5 cm. This is very small for a 12 year old blackwood plantation, where average diameter growth rates should be about 2.0 cm per year. At age 12 years this plantation should have an average stem diameter of about 20 – 24 cm. At least another 10 years has been added to the rotation length as a result of this conservative approach to management. Thinning of the plantation is now critical to allow the final crop trees to start to put on some serious diameter growth.

The goal is to produce ~200 trees per hectare with an average diameter of 60cm at 1.3m above ground at time of harvest, with all trees straight and pruned to 6 metres.

On the positive side the trees are all very healthy and growing well given the intense competition they must be experiencing. There are many pruned trees with excellent stem form from which to select the final crop trees. With such a high stocking of 2,500 trees per hectare, the trees are tall and thin, which makes them potentially susceptible to windthrow. Gilles will have to thin the plantation in stages over a number of years (say 3 years) to minimise the chance of windthrow. This gives the trees adequate time to become windfirm.

I would also recommend Gilles begin an inventory of his plantation. It is small enough that all trees could be measured for diameter at breast height (1.3m) before any thinning. When he has identified the final crop trees that will remain after the thinning is completed, the pruning history and pruned height of these trees should also be recorded and photographed. This will help future potential buyers know that the pruned sawlogs in the trees are indeed free of branches and knots. The retained crop trees can then be remeasured every 5 years or so, so that Gilles can track their response to the thinning, and understand how blackwood responds to good management on this site.

During the thinning process wood samples (discs) should be kept from any thinned trees that have begun to develop heartwood. These will become valuable in helping determine the heartwood colour range that is likely to be encountered when the final harvest becomes due. Heartwood colour, as well as wood basic density, are two of the most important wood properties determining blackwood value. While we don’t yet know whether wood colour within the tree changes over time, we do know that heartwood colour may or may not vary from the pith to the outer edge of the heartwood as the tree grows. We also know that there is wide tree-to-tree variation in heartwood colour in blackwood (at least some of this variation is under genetic control), so having any information on this at the time of final harvest will be important in negotiating a sale.

Oh yes, and I’m sure the retained trees would appreciate a dose of super phosphate to help them to achieve those greater growth rates.


As I said in the original blog, this plantation shows many positive features, including the use of hedges for shelter, good site selection and establishment techniques, and the importance of dedicated, focused management for the first 10 years. Gilles passion for blackwood is clearly evident. The completion of the task with thinning, plus commencing an inventory, should see this excellent plantation become an inspiration to other Tasmanian farmers wishing to grow blackwood.


Award Winning House has Blackwood Floor


Last year the New Zealand Registered Master Builders 2011 House of the Year featured a stunning blackwood floor. But this was no blackwood imported blackwood from Tasmania, this was New Zealand plantation-grown blackwood.

The following is an article from the latest New Zealand Tree Grower journal (Feb 2012) written by Ian Nicholas and Paul Millen. Ian Nicholas is Chairman of AMIGO (the NZ blackwood growers group) and Paul Millen is a director of Marlborough Timbers

In November last year, a Marlborough Sounds house built by Glenroy Housing of Blenheim won the New Homes category $350,000 to $450,000 house of the year Registered Master Builders award. The house went on to claim the Supreme House of the Year award fighting off one and two million dollar houses. The house has been built for Marcus and Alex Myring who see their home as very special.

The Master Builders promotional description of the house states that locally milled blackwood has been laid in a distinctive pattern in the main living room, achieving a blend of warmth and sophistication and complementing the natural timber used extensively inside and out.

The judges in the new home category noted that the authentic blackwood timber flooring, locally milled and conditioned on site, has been laid to perfection with an innovative border trim, just one example of the complex detailing executed to perfection.

The timber for the floor was locally grown by Paul and Ash Millen of Marlborough Timbers at their forest, Tai Tane located nearby in Linkwater. They started sawing 18 to 20-year-old blackwood thinnings in 2004 when they first supplied timber for the floor of another Marlborough house.

Here is the builder’s website with lots more stunning images of the feature floor:

Examples like this clearly show that New Zealand farmers are well on track to producing high-quality, valuable, plantation-grown blackwood timber. Where are the Tasmanian farmers who will follow their New Zealand peers?