I finally made it to the Shakey Isles after all these years, or at least the North Island; and thankfully they didn’t shake or erupt while we were there.
Here is a collection of thoughts on New Zealand forestry from a visiting forester from Tasmania.
If I think about the farm forest industry as a jigsaw puzzle then the New Zealanders seem to have most of the pieces in place, unlike here in Australia where we haven’t even found the puzzle box yet.
Despite its already huge forest industry New Zealand still has enormous potential to expand its industry further. There are huge areas of cleared farm land whose best long-term and most profitable use would be forestry.
This land is mostly marginal cattle and sheep grazing country, but I was amazed to see dairy farmers happily incorporating tree-growing into their businesses – harvesting timber whilst milking the cows! Brilliant!!
Whether the country’s road, rail, and port infrastructure could handle the increase is a different question.
There are also huge areas of cleared farm land whose best long-term use would be planted back to native forest – but that’s another story. Grazing cows on 70 degree slopes? Really?
With it’s potential for growing a wide range of quality timber species New Zealand could easily become the quality timber capital of the world.
Tree Growing Culture
For someone from Australia one of the things that stands out in NZ is the abundance of planted trees on farms. NZ farmers have an obvious passion for growing trees. This is not surprising in the North Island as everything grows with such rampant abundance. Trees are planted for aesthetic and utility purposes, sometimes for environmental purposes and occasionally for wood production. Most of the planted trees will eventually become liabilities that need to be cleared and burnt, instead of assets to be harvested and sold.
This tree-growing culture is a real advantage for New Zealand.
The question is – how do you progress that culture to be one of passionate profitable wood growing?
One of the ways to build a culture of passionate profitable wood growing is with a wood festival.
For all its forest heritage I was surprised to learn that New Zealand does not have a Wood Festival. In order to build a focus around farm grown quality wood and farm foresters, New Zealand needs a Wood Festival. Whether it is a National Festival or a separate one for each island the future can determine. My recommendation would be to begin with a Wood Festival in the North Island, since this has the advantage in being able to grow a wider range of quality timbers.
I think the Maleny Wood Expo would be a good model for the New Zealanders to start with and develop further.
The Wood Festival should include a wide range of people from tree growers, tree nurseries, harvesting contractors, sawmillers, craft people, cabinet and furniture makers, architects, builders, etc.
The Maori community and its wood carving heritage definitely need to be part of the Festival.
The purpose of the festival is to build a community of proud tree growers and wood users, and to build links between growers and the market.
Eventually the world will come to the New Zealand Wood Festival. Major companies like Ikea will come to NZ and establish connections. I have absolutely no doubt the Festival will become an international event.
New Zealand farmers have ready access to markets if they grow meat, vegetables, fruit, flowers, wool, wine, etc. But access to forestry markets is more difficult. Markets are well established if you grow radiata pine, douglas fir or cypress. But many farmers are growing a host of other tree species, including Tasmanian blackwood, in the hope of breaking into higher value timber markets.
But these higher value markets are yet to understand that they can no longer rely on the plunder of the worlds native forests. They have yet to understand that if they want wood today and tomorrow they need to ensure there is tree planting today and tomorrow.
Just going to the hardware or the timber merchant to buy timber is a dead end road, unless the hardware chains and timber merchants are actively supporting local tree growers.
A wood festival would help resolve this market dysfunction.
Coming from Tasmania one of the immediate impressions of New Zealand is of a go-ahead prosperous country. The NZ economy is going very well right now. There is construction and building happening everywhere.
One of the ways for NZ tree growers to establish market presence is through the architecture profession.
I strongly recommend that the New Zealand Farm Forestry Association establish a close working relationship with the New Zealand Institute of Architects (NZIA). Perhaps even a partnership!
The NZIA should be supporting local wood growers and the use of locally grow quality timber. A policy around this would a good start.
Having the NZIA onboard promoting and supporting local wood growers would be a major boost to local growers – definitely one of the missing pieces of puzzle!
During my trip I caught up with NZ blackwood growers Malcolm Mackenzie and Ian Brown. It was a breath of fresh air! Thanks guys!! ….and thanks also to Alison.
I saw a lot of blackwood planted around the North Island. Most of it is unmanaged aesthetic plantings, with scraggly blackwood trees being the result. I saw only a few blackwood plantations, including Malcolm and Ian’s. No one has ever said blackwood is easy to grow, even in NZ. But with care, commitment and a focus on the Three Principles it can be done. Tasmanian blackwood obviously loves growing in the north island of NZ. It’s the perfect climate and soils.
The main challenge now is not the growing of blackwood but creating and building markets. The hope is that as markets develop more trees will be planted.
Ian Brown has approximately 4,000 cubic metres of high quality blackwood sawlogs available for sale over the next 5-10 years and he needs to find a buyer. The buyer needs to pay a good price but also share a commitment to the future of the New Zealand blackwood industry. Is there anybody out there?
New Zealand is a very inspiring place for a battle-weary forester.