Category Archives: Commentary

The Australian Wooden Boat Festival

AWBF

An item in the Tasmanian weekend press reminded me that Tasmania’s biggest wood-based festival is returning in 2019.

The Australian Wooden Boat Festival (AWBF) has become a major event on many boat/yacht owners calenders.

https://www.australianwoodenboatfestival.com.au/

What began in 1994 has now become a major national and international festival.

For a small island State at the bottom of the world a wooden boat festival makes perfect sense for Tasmania, with its dual heritage of boats and forests.

The problem is, like so many other wood-based festivals, the AWBF is completely silent on the issue of where the wood comes from.

https://blackwoodgrowers.com.au/2018/02/13/all-about-the-wood-nothing-about-the-growers/

https://blackwoodgrowers.com.au/2018/02/19/maleny-wood-expo/

Tasmania has a heritage of renowned boating timbers such as King billy pine, Huon pine and Celery top pine. The problem is that these timbers come from very slow growing trees from ancient rainforests that are now mostly gone or are in conservation reserves.

Some Huon pine and Celery top pine continues to come from hydro lake salvage, but this is a finite resource.

Last year the Tasmanian government enacted a management plan that allows the harvesting of rainforest timbers from conservation reserves that were established specifically to protect rainforest under the Tasmanian Regional Forestry Agreement:

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

Given Tasmania’s decades long forestry wars, hosting a major wood based festival is a significant achievement. The AWBF could easily have become the focus for community conflict over the management of our public native forests.

This could still happen given current Government policy.

Given the context perhaps the AWBF Committee believes that having no policies on timber sourcing and forest management is the safest strategy.

When skating (sailing?) on thin ice it’s best to be cautious!

Also no doubt the wooden boating community is itself deeply divided over timber sourcing and forest management issues. Attempting to develop policies around these issues could tear the wooden boating community asunder. Goodbye AWBF!

But avoiding these issues is not a sustainable strategy. Sooner or later the matter will come to a head. A community demonstration at the AWBF around Government policy and rainforest logging may be all that is needed to precipitate a policy crisis.

Supporting the continued taxpayer-funded plunder of Tasmania’s rainforest and oldgrowth forest is not an option for the AWBF.

Given its enormous popularity the AWBF could become a powerful positive force for good forest management.

What is the future of boating timbers?

I’m no expert.

Many people rate Cupressus macrocarpa and related species as good for boat building. These are fast growing species ideal for the Tasmanian climate. The AWBF could develop policies that support farmers growing boating timbers.

They could be local Tasmanian growers or they could come from overseas.

The point is that the AWBF would have a positive vision for its future.

The AWBF currently has its head in the sand (sawdust?) on timber sourcing and forest management.

But it can’t last forever!!

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National Forest Industries Plan 2018

Better

The only basis for a successful forest industry is profitable private tree growers.

And once again the Federal Government and the Australian forest industry have failed to deliver.

Last week the Federal Government launched another plan for the Australian forest industry:

http://www.agriculture.gov.au/forestry

http://ausfpa.com.au/media-releases/morrison-government-promises-a-billion-new-production-trees-sets-new-vision-for-growing-australias-renewable-forest-industries/

Yet another opportunity for Australian taxpayers to give generously to the tune of $20 million over the next 4 years with more to come.

But wait! There is a Federal election due before November 2019.

Surely this is coincidence!

Another forest industry plan so close to an election. Is that pork I smell cooking?

Apologies for my cynicism but I’ve seen this so many times before.

Forest industry plans have a short shelf life in Australia. The Use By Date generally coincides with the next election/change of Government.

The Plan is 15 pages long, 15 pages of marketing and spin with very little substance. Just reading the 2 page Preface tells me that I’ve read all this many times before.

If this Plan was an investment prospectus it would be in the bin within the hour.

The Preface tells me:

  • Its all political;
  • Its all about the sawmillers/wood processors;
  • It even mentions “resource security” which is just another term for industry subsidy.
  • Competitive markets, log prices, market transparency are not discussed at all!
  • It tells me that Farmers will play a vital role. Farmers beware!!! Here’s a typical quote: Working with farmers to secure a long-term ‘wood bank’ for the forest industries’ future…. That’s it! Farmers role is to help subsidise the forest industry.
  • Does the Plan discuss profitable tree growing? Not at all!

The Plan has 15 Actions listed under 4 headings. Every one of the Actions is what the Government/taxpayer is going to do for the wood processors. Not one of the Actions concerns what the forest industry will do for itself.

There is no Implementation Plan. How, who and when are these Actions going to be fulfilled? Based in past industry plans I assume few if any of the Actions will see the light of day.

The word “export” is completely absent from the Plan. Access to log export markets is an essential part of the future of any viable profitable forest industry.

The Plan fails to address the many distortions and blockages in forestry markets in Australia (like Government control and manipulation of log prices). One major issue here is the management and performance of the various State forest agencies. All these agencies MUST be made fully commercial and profitable, or they must be must be shut down.

Many reports have been written highlighting the issues preventing investment in tree planting in Australia. This Plan ignores these issues entirely!

As I said in my previous blog forest policy should not be about sawmillers/wood processors. That is the wrong focus. Good forest policy should be about profitable private tree growers. Once tree growing is demonstrably profitable then the investment in processing will follow.

This Plan is all about sawmillers/processors.

The political and industry spin doctors really had fun with this statement:

The National Farmers Federation’s support for the inclusion of farm forestry tree plantings as a supplement to primary agricultural purposes confirms that farmers are poised to support a bigger part of tree growing in our landscape.

The National Farmers Federation (NFF) has only recently decided that forestry might be a primary industry. To date their interest and commitment has been minimal. They have no policies or farm forestry programs.

The one single positive I can say about the Plan is that it has a stronger emphasis on farm forestry than previous plans, but not in a way I find encouraging.

If you have 30 minutes and want some light entertainment download the Plan and have a read. Then tell me what you think!

Will this Plan ignite the forest industry in Australia?

Or will it join the dozens of previous forest industry plans collecting dust on library shelves around the country?

Cheers!

Sawmillers and forest policy

protest

These recent news items highlight the moral hazard that continues to dominate forest policy and the forest industry in Australia:

https://www.news.com.au/national/breaking-news/calls-for-overhaul-of-vic-timber-industry/news-story/0db91597e1b64a9a72e02e9319c23a5c

and

https://www.timberbiz.com.au/victorian-sawmillers-call-for-change-favouring-plantations/

For 200+ years forest policy in Australia has been about sawmillers (and to a lesser extent other wood processors).

Profitable tree growing has NEVER been the focus of forest policy in Australia.

It’s like having a dairy industry policy focused on cheese makers at the expense of dairy farmers.

Sawmillers need to understand.

Good forest policy isn’t about them!

Good forest policy is about the growers. It’s about profitable tree growing.

If tree growing is not profitable then sawmilling has no future.

It’s that simple.

Continually asking taxpayers for more money is not a forest industry plan.

The forest industry does not need to transition to a plantation resource.

In fact the whole idea of “transition” is completely wrong.

Transition keeps the policy focus on employing sawmillers.

That is exactly the rubbish policy focus that got us into the current disaster.

The forest industry policy needs to transition to profitable private tree growing.

That is a very significant difference!!

NSW Forestry Minister Paul Toole responds

log truck

So the NSW Forestry Minister Paul Toole rushes in to confirm that the forest industry IS a taxpayer and ratepayer subsidised loss-making community service.

The forest industry IS NOT a primary industry at all!

It’s knowingly anti-commercial and anti-competitive!

https://www.oberonreview.com.au/story/5599831/think-about-the-affect-of-a-rates-change-on-forests-land-toole/

Firstly comes the threat of job losses from the Minister.

Yes the forest industry has been subsidised for so long that job losses are inevitable. The forest industry needs to become competitive in global wood markets otherwise it will wither and die. Subsidising the forest industry wont save it!

But once the industry becomes fully commercial and competitive comes the opportunity for growth and expansion, and more jobs. Curious that the Minister only focuses on the negative, not on the opportunities.

Second comes the idea from the Minister that State forest is Crown land and is not rateable. The fact that private forest owners are immediately disadvantaged by this situation is completely ignored. If anyone (Government or private) grows trees for wood production then that is a business and must be treated as such, and treated equally. A level commercial playing field is absolutely essential.

Talking about cemeteries, parks and racetracks is deliberate obfuscation!!

Finally the Minister tries to convince his readers that the NSW Forestry Corporation is a community service NOT a business.

Another furphy!

NSWFC’s primary purpose is to manage forests for wood production AS A BUSINESS!! Why else is it called a corporation? And as a corporation it must be managed like any other private tree growing business and pay rates.

The Oberon mayor Cr Sajowitz said last week that she wanted to stress that a “vibrant, expanding timber industry is absolutely vital to the economic stability, growth and prosperity of our towns”.

But she said “government profit at the expense of local communities is not tenable”.

The Oberon Mayor is completely correct but she could provide a broader, more forceful argument.

If the forest industry can’t operate in a fully commercial and fair manner then it’s future is indeed grim.

How is the forest industry going to remain competitive in global markets if it relies on increasing subsidies?

How is the forest industry going to attract private investment if private investors have to compete against a subsidised competitor?

These basic matters of proper commercial management need to be resolved if the forest industry in Australia is to have any future at all.

Unfortunately there are very few people who understand and even fewer who are pushing for change.

Competition, level playing fields and subsidies

log truck

The forest industry in Australia has some serious basic issues that need to be fixed before anyone is going to take the industry seriously.

This is one of them.

It has to do with competition, level (commercial) playing fields, ratepayer subsidies and community support.

In Australia we can have the situation of two forest owners who are neighbours, one of whom pays local Government rates (taxes) on their forest land and the other does not.

One owner gets to use local Government roads to carry logs for free, the other has to pay rates to help maintain the roads. The former gets a subsidy (free roads) from his neighbour (and other ratepayers), to the competitive disadvantage of his neighbour, and any other landowner thinking of growing trees for wood production. Why compete against growers who get to use the roads for free.

And why subsidise these forest growers anyway? Everyone else pays rates!!

It’s an astonishing situation.

And local Governments around Australia are complaining more and more. Here are two recent examples:

Oberon mayor will continue fight for better deal on forestry land

Lithgow City Council joins call to abolish Forestry rate exemption

This can be either a) State forest agencies not paying rates on either native forest or plantation land, or b) privatised former Government plantation owners being exempt from paying rates such as in Queensland.

The Mayor of Oberon says a lot of very good things in that article. Well worth reading.

How can the forest industry hope to gain community support if it treats local communities with such blatant contempt?

Ratepayers should be marching on City Halls around the country demanding action!

Why are Australians continuing to subsidise the forest industry?

How many Australians even realise they are subsidising the forest industry through their local rates?

Not very many is my guess.

No forest companies or State forest agencies tell us if they are paying rates on their forest land. And I bet no local Councils/Governments tell their rate payers if they are subsidising the industry. I went to the Oberon local government website and couldn’t find any mention of the issue. Not even the ratepayers of the Oberon Shire, NSW are allowed to know they are being ripped off!

https://www.oberon.nsw.gov.au/

Why does the forest industry accept these deliberate market distortions that destroy competition, inhibit investment and ultimately destroy the industry’s future?

Growing trees for wood production is a business right? Just like every other primary industry.

Removing these deliberate market distortions would help put the forest industry onto a level playing field. It would help make the industry more competitive and encourage investment.

The only basis for a successful forest industry is profitable (unsubsidised) tree growers.

New Zealand Cypress Market Report

And one VERY switched on sawmiller!!

Macdirect

This has little to do with farm grown Tasmanian blackwood, but in terms of where I wish the forest industry in Tasmania was right now, this is a fantastic example. In fact I would rate this little piece as one of the best things I’ve read in my 40 year career as a forester:

http://www.nzffa.org.nz/specialty-timber-market/headlines/member-profile—macdirect/

It’s a shame it’s hidden away in a corner of the New Zealand Farm Forestry Association (NZFFA) website so that very few people will ever read it.

I suspect Murray Grant, Director/Owner of MacDirect Ltd., didn’t set out to write a cypress market report. But that is exactly what this is. This “member profile” is jam packed with lots of useful information for existing and potential cypress growers.

Most Tasmanians would only know macrocarpa cypress as large scraggly farm windbreak trees. Only a handful of Tasmanians know that this tree is fast growing and produces a high value, high quality, durable timber. New Zealand farmers have been growing it in commercial plantations for 40 years. There are only a handful of small cypress plantations in Tasmania.

MacDirect Ltd is NZ’s number 1 Building Grade Macrocarpa supplier.

https://www.macdirect.co.nz/

To me the thing that makes Murray Grant unique is that he’s not just thinking about how to improve his sawmills profitability; he’s not just thinking about the logs that will be coming into his sawmill tomorrow or next week.

He’s thinking about the logs that will be harvested in 10, 20 and 30 years time!!

He’s thinking about the trees that need to be planted tomorrow!!

The major priority of EVERY sawmiller is NOT to produce profitable sawn timber! That’s the easy part of the business!!

Given that timber takes 30+ years to grow, the major priority of every sawmiller is to ensure that farmers are growing more (profitable) trees for wood production to meet market demand.

Sawing up logs is the easy part!!!

And Murray Grant knows this when he says:

We would love to hear from any farm foresters who are keen to work closely with us to grow plantations into the future, get our perspective on silviculture for the marketplace and/or look at log price and harvesting.

Murray Grant knows the critical part that sawmillers (and the market generally) play in ensuring their own future.

Murray Grant is a hero!

He needs a medal!!

 

 

Softwood growers seek sector review

SWANpine

https://www.bdtimes.com.au/?news%2Fbusselton-dunsborough-times%2Fsoftwood-growers-seek-sector-review-ng-b88817681z

WOW!!

This must be the first time in my 40 year career as a forester that I’ve heard farm foresters openly complaining about Government control of forestry markets in Australia.

This is a unique event.

Hopefully this is the beginning of the major reform of the forest industry that is so desperately needed in Australia.

We really need to keep this discussion going.

And it’s not just about softwood prices.

It’s also about native forest log prices, and markets, transparency and competition.

It’s also about Government forest policy which is firmly focused on subsidising sawmills, and not about profitable tree growers.

This is true right around Australia!

I wish the WA farmers luck in their discussions with the State Government.

Even if you don’t succeed initially, keep the discussion going. Keep the campaign alive.

The fact that here we have farmers wanting to grow trees for wood production and yet we have Government policy directly hindering their efforts is beyond madness.

GOOD LUCK!