Category Archives: Commentary

Forestry is the issue that dare not speak its name


This is an excellent article in The Guardian yesterday about the Tasmanian State election campaign. Compared to the last election in 2014, forestry has been completely off the agenda by all parties in 2018. The elephant in the room waiting to reek havoc on the Tasmanian community once more.

We are on track to waste even more $100 millions of taxpayer dollars over the next Government term on the bankrupt forest industry, because of our failed political system.

Well worth reading!


Heartwood: The art and science of growing trees for conservation and profit


Fellow forester Rowan Reid recently wrote this book which has been getting a lot of media coverage. I thought I’d write a review.

Rowan is passionate about trees and farm forestry. And like me he’s pretty critical of the policies and practices of State and Federal Governments and the forest industry. As such Heartwood says very little about past and current industry and Government policies and practices to thwart or encourage farm forestry.

In one respect I can see why he has avoided discussing the current Government, industry and market context. Rowan obviously wants to keep the book positive. The problem is when it comes time to sell your cherished sawlogs you have to deal with that context, and it’s often not a positive experience.

One of the first things I do with a new book is look at the contents page to get an overview of the books structure.

Here’s the Contents page from Heartwood:


With Heartwood that didn’t work. I quickly discovered there was content not shown in the Contents page. So I’ve made a list of the other Contents:

Quartersawn, backwsawn and shrinkage 34
The components of a tree trunk 52
Basic tree felling 53
How to grow tall trees 70
How much space does a tree need to grow? 88
Geotropic and phototropic growth in trees 108
Attracting wildlife to your farm 124
Measuring moisture content and wood density 144
Wood density and tree age 145
Reaction wood: tension wood and compression wood 162
Hardwood sawing patterns for a horizontal bandsaw 178
Tree foliage for supplementary fodder 200
Pruning trees for sawlogs 220
Durability of timber 240
Growing shitake mushrooms on logs 258
Shelterbelt design 276
How to plant a tree 294

Heartwood contains a wealth of information and knowledge about trees and farm forestry written in a personal and engaging style. Rowan’s view of farm forestry extends beyond commercial wood production (although that is clearly his main focus, as you can see from the other Contents page). His vision is to reintegrate trees back into the rural landscape to achieve multiple benefits.

If you want a head start in how to grow these trees this is a good place to begin.

The question remains – what are the commercial risks associated with planting these species? After all, the book’s title does include the word PROFIT!

And here’s where I start to have problems with the book.

How do we start a conversation in Australia about profitable tree growing?

Certainly Governments and the forest industry take great efforts in avoiding discussing profitable tree growing. To them it is anathema. Such discussion would inevitably put the spotlight on the failings of public native forestry, and they are at pains to avoid that.

Heartwood avoids any serious discussion about end uses, markets, costs and prices, so it’s hard to see where the profits come from. There’s also no discussion about laws and regulations pertaining to farm forestry. Rowan’s desire to avoid the current “context” and remain positive starts to feel awkward.

Some of the species in the book are quality appearance-grade timber species. In theory they are high value. Appearance grade timbers in Australia have historically either been imported or have come from public native forests. With public native forestry in Australia traditionally run as a community service rather than a business, proper commercial markets for quality timber have never developed.

One example of weak/non-existent markets is the steady stream of phone calls I get from people who have stashes of Australian Red Cedar timber hidden in back sheds for decades. They now want to sell, but can’t find buyers. At the time these sheds full of Red Cedar were seen as a guaranteed investment. But after 100 years the market for Red Cedar has moved on leaving these “stranded assets”.

And yet there are people today planting and growing Red Cedar hoping to revive this long dormant market. Will they succeed?

Heartwood is full of optimism and hope. The forest industry has a long history of unrealised optimism.

Most of the appearance grade species in Heartwood would be destined for the furniture, flooring and cabinetry markets (office and shop fit-outs, etc.); or for the export market. The Australian furniture industry is well aware that it faces a looming timber supply crisis as evident in this recent media article:

But the furniture industry has no plans to address this crisis besides appeals to Governments. The furniture industry could be supporting and encouraging private tree growers, but so far there is no evidence of this.

Rowan has been working hard for decades promoting farm forestry in Australia but governments, industry, markets and farmer groups have pretty much ignored his efforts.

Heartwood will fundamentally change the way people think about the future of forestry and in doing so it will encourage more landholders to grow more trees for the benefit of their land and all that depend on it.

I’m not sure that statement is true because most of the change/reform that is needed has to happen in the marketplace and with Government policy as much as with landowners.

I see no indication that the marketplace or Governments understand what reform is needed to realise Rowan’s dream; his Third Wave!

By all means get yourself a copy of Heartwood. It is an enjoyable read.

The book is as relevant to furniture and cabinet makers as it is to farmers/landowners. Maybe a few policy makers and forest industry leaders could learn a thing or two.

Thanks Rowan!

All about the wood, nothing about the growers


It’s a funny old world!

I look around and see lots of events and festivals that have a strong wood focus, events such as:

All of these events either feature wood or have a strong link to wood.

But none of these events show any interest whatsoever in where their wood comes from, or who grows it!!

It’s as if they think the wood magically falls from the sky!

Do they not care?

I understand the history behind this attitude and thinking. In Australia we have had 200+ years of abundant public native forests to plunder. Why worry about tomorrow when there is a tree to cut down today!

But those days are clearly behind us. The treeless/woodless tomorrow is rapidly approaching. I read about it every day!

Or perhaps they believe there are hundreds of private tree growers out there happily and profitably growing so much quality wood that they don’t need to worry. I don’t see much evidence of that. Yes there are a few private tree growers around Australia but they are rare.

Or a third possibility is that these organisations believe it is NOT their responsibility to support and encourage private tree growing. If it isn’t the responsibility of markets to do this then I’m not sure who is responsible.

And still the festivals continue.

Even woodcraft galleries (and Australia has some world class woodcraft galleries) behave as if there is an endless abundance of wood.

It doesn’t make sense to me.

The idea of having a wood festival in the 21st century without any reference to where the wood comes from or who grows it is just extraordinary!

These events and businesses should think about how they can encourage and support private tree growers as part of their event/business program.

In encouraging and supporting private tree growers they ensure the future of their event.

It’s not just about existing tree growers, it’s about building a strong positive culture of tree growing in the rural community.

Some of these events and festivals are huge. They could make an enormous impact in rural communities, helping build a culture of tree and timber growing.

And including existing and potential tree growers into the program would bring a whole new audience to these events.

If anyone wants ideas or to start a discussion about how to include existing and potential private tree growers into their event program I’d be happy to help. Give me a call; send me an email…

PS. And knock me down with a feather!

Here we have a woodcraft festival that does acknowledge the importance of tree growers:

Maleny Wood Expo

We must more and more use timber from privately-owned forests as our appreciation of old growth forests leads to cessation of logging. Private forests provide not only timber – they’re an important farm asset and income stream. They repair and protect our land and provide biodiversity and habitat, shelter and support for agricultural and grazing enterprises, landscape aesthetics, bushfoods and much more. The Barung Nursery supplies quality tree stock for boutique and larger plantations.

They could do a lot more to encourage and support private tree growers but its a start.

Hey the world is changing!!

Farmers and forestry


Yet another recently discovered private blackwood plantation.

It’s a common mantra in the forest industry in Australia that Australian farmers are reluctant to plant trees as a commercial crop.

For many years I believed this mantra and attributed it to the lack of support from the forest industry, markets and governments. Many government and industry reports have made similar findings.

The fact that the forest industry believes that transparent competitive markets, log prices and a level playing field are irrelevant to its future, doesn’t help.

However I recently had a revelation that undermines this mantra.

Driving around southern Tasmania I am always discovering new blackwood plantations on private farmland, and it suddenly dawned on me – Tasmanian farmers want to grow commercial blackwood, the evidence is everywhere!

I know of dozens of private blackwood plantations in southern Tasmania alone. In northern Tasmania there must be hundreds.

Virtually all of these plantations are small and have failed.

They have failed for a range of reasons:

  • Poor site selection;
  • Poor establishment;
  • Lack of timely management and commitment;
  • Stock and wildlife damage;

But I believe the major reason for the failure of these hundreds of private plantations is the lack of support and engagement (and demonstrably commercial behaviour) by the forest industry and the State government.

The government agency Private Forests Tasmania offers extension services to Tasmanian farmers, but clearly, after 45 years, this isn’t enough.

Private Forests Tasmania by itself cannot provide enough support, encouragement and motivation to turn this demonstrable passion for commercial blackwood into a success story.

And especially right now we have State government policy deliberately undermining any hopes of private commercial blackwood growers with the anti-commercial Special Timbers Management Plan:

Tasmanian farmers clearly demonstrate a passion for growing commercial blackwood, even within the context of decades of toxic, destructive forest politics and policy.

If only we could turn this passion into a success story.

Election Wishlist

Hodgman White

Another day, another list of new election promises in the media.

It’s very tedious!!

With another State election a few weeks away I thought I’d throw some thoughts together for a Forestry Election Wishlist.

The 2014 Tasmanian State election is still vivid in my memory as one of the most toxic and divisive forestry elections in recent history (and we have had 35 years of them!). The last 4 years have been some of the most damaging and divisive in the history of the Tasmanian forest industry.


  1. Tasmania to have a fully commercial profitable forest industry like New Zealand, based on thousands of profitable private tree growers. We need Government policy and action to make this happen;
  2. The evidence is overwhelming! Public native forestry is a disaster commercially, socially and environmentally. It needs to be shut down.
  3. In term of regulations, forest plantations are just like other primary industries. Do we have an Onion Practices Authority, or a Diary Practices Authority? Do we have Apple Practices Plans or Chicken Practices Plans? No we do not! Forest plantations should not be excessively burdened by regulation.
  4. Private Forests Tasmania should be the dominant government forest agency. It needs to be in partnership with the TFGA to develop a vision for the future of the forest industry based on profitable private tree growers.
  5. I could go on but I’d start to feel like a politician on the campaign trail.

None of the political parties are showing any interest in resolving Tasmania’s forestry crisis so this wishlist is just “pie in the sky”.

For further wishes read my previous wishlist here:

When will Tasmania get a real forest industry?

New Zealand Historical Pine Log Price Data

In the early 1990s the New Zealand Government made the fateful decision to hand the forest industry over to the private sector.

It was a brave and visionary decision.

Before then the New Zealand forest industry was a Government run community service that included plundering public native forests and running a massive pine plantation employment program.

Public native forestry was shut down and the pine plantation resource was sold to the private sector.

The forest industry was mortified! Apoplectic!

Twenty five (25) years later and NZ has one of the most successful forest industries in the world, based on profitable private tree growers. Can anyone challenge this assessment?

Forestry was third in the list of exports by value in 2016 in New Zealand (after dairy and meat; with no Government subsidies):

What did New Zealand export in 2016

Once the pine plantation resource was privatised then pine log prices became realistic and meaningful and the NZ Ministry of Primary Industries began recording pine log price data.

So here we have twenty five (25) years of export pine log price data.

What an astonishing achievement!

Well done New Zealand!!

I’ve converted the data into a chart and added some second order polynomial trend lines.

Before June 2017 the data is numerical average price. Post June 2017 the prices are weighted average which should mean more realistic and stable data.


The obvious trends are a major spike in 1994 due to the Northern Spotted Owl crisis in North America (1) followed by a gradual price decline until the GFC in 2007/08. Following the Global Financial Crisis export pine log prices have seen a steady 10-year price improvement, to the advantage of NZ pine growers.

The other interesting trend in the chart is the convergence over the last 10 years of the A Grade, K Grade and Pulp log prices. Pruned pine log prices have continued show a significant price differential.

Oh how I wish we had meaningful long term blackwood log price data.

No chance! Not in Tasmania!

Good luck to New Zealand pine growers!!

New Zealand Tree Growers Enjoying Good Times


New Zealand has one of the world’s most successful forest industries.

And right now they are riding the tide of strong demand and high prices.

New Zealand farmers will be raking in the money.

Forest owners are enjoying the most sustained, stable and highest prices for logs ever recorded.

It’s mostly about China and export markets.

Log export markets are absolutely vital to the New Zealand forest industry.


Because the New Zealand forest industry is ALL about profitable private tree growers. Local New Zealand sawmillers have to survive in a very competitive market. This keeps them focused, efficient and hardworking. That’s business!

And for that the forest industry makes a huge contribution to the New Zealand economy.

Why can’t Tasmania have a forest industry like New Zealand?