Category Archives: New Zealand

Trans-Tasman Blackwood Grower Friendship


I just received this great email from my friend and blackwood grower Gilles which I couldn’t resist turning into a blog.

I like good news stories!

And yes…it’s another story from New Zealand.

Hi Gordon,

I just got back from a 3 weeks trip in New Zealand , originally it was a meant to be just a vacation with some friends but after a week I ended up travelling on my own and i soon found myself on a farm near Kaitaia in the Northland,  guest of Brian and Gaye Simms ( they are friends of a friend of mine who sent me there ).

As I got there we were soon talking blackwoods and Brian ask me if I knew you …

I was so lucky to spend 4 days with them and look very closely at his 40 years work on his farm, planting  natives and of course blackwoods to create windbreaks and stabilise the hills … an impressive result !

What a great example of what needs to be done on most farms to improve the production and create an asset that, in his case, he is able to start harvesting.

Here are some photos I took last week:

I hope Brian posts some stories of his experiences as he begins his first blackwood harvesting.

Here’s a video of Brian talking about his farm and his trees produced by the New Zealand Farm Forestry Association:

Keep up the great work Brian.

Thanks to Gilles for the inspiration and photos.

A Harvest Result to Confound the Experts

Here’s another great little story from the latest New Zealand Tree Grower (Vol 38/1 p. 19) journal that will be of interest to farmers.

Harvest result to confound the experts NZTG 38-1

The story follows from my other recent blog:

The story isn’t about blackwood, but it illustrates what commitment, good management and planning can achieve on a farm even with a commodity wood like Radiata pine.

Every year for the past 27 years the Wilson family have planted and managed 1 hectare of pine plantation on their farm near Otorohanga, North Island NZ. The farm is obviously close to markets and on easy ground so harvest and transport costs are minimised.

The recent first harvest of 1 hectare of well managed pine plantation netted the Wilson family $NZ57,700.

All up they now have 27 hectares of well managed pine plantation on their farm, and good annual income in perpetuity (markets permitting). Now if they want they could replant another hectare each year so that in 27 years time they are harvesting 2 hectares per year.

This is an excellent example of how to incorporate wood production into your farming business.

Yes it takes time for trees to grow, but that time will pass regardless of whether the trees are planted or not. And as the Wilsons now discover their commitment and hard work will pay a handsome annual dividend.

Your farm may not allow 1.0 hectare to be planted every year for 30+ years. Or it might have difficult terrain or greater distance to markets.

You could make a planting every 2 years, or every 5 years. Most farms have areas that are not being used as part of the main productive activity, whether its grazing, cropping or dairy, due to size, location, slope or drainage. These areas could be used for growing valuable wood products.

Eventually, as the Wilsons discovered, you end up with a regular handsome dividend from your work and commitment.

Notes on West coast (NZ) blackwoods


New Zealand blackwood grower and co-author of the blackwood growers handbook Ian Brown has posted a useful and detailed update on his view of current blackwood management. It makes for thoughtful reading for current and prospective blackwood growers.

Here’s the handbook: handbook

Here’s the update:

I have two comments on Ian’s notes:

Firstly on the issue of blackwood growth rate and wood quality.

Certainly current research shows that growth rate has little to no impact on blackwood wood quality in terms of heartwood colour and basic density.

But my PhD research showed that blackwood wood quality can vary enormously from tree to tree. This is supported by numerous other studies, and is shown to be mostly genetically based.

So if you want good quality wood from plantation blackwood you need to plant good quality genetic stock.

Unfortunately we don’t yet have a blackwood selection and breeding program.

Fortunately the incidence of poor wood quality genes is relatively low.

Also note that research shows there is no correlation between heartwood colour and wood basic density.

Secondly on the issue of pruning height.

Pruning height will obviously affect the final value of the crop and in a big way since most of the value is in the clear pruned log.

Where the site dictates that you can only prune to 4 metres so be it.

But a fully stocked blackwood plantation of 200 trees with an average tree diameter of 60cm dbh pruned to 6 metres will have approximately 300 cubic metres of clear grade premium blackwood per hectare. Only prune to 4 metres and the volume of clear grade blackwood comes down to 215 cubic metres per hectare a reduction of 28%!!

Whilst you have the trees growing you may as well get the most value out of them that you can.

Thanks to Ian Brown for posting his comments.

Milling blackwood in the Marlborough Sounds, New Zealand

The latest edition of New Zealand Tree Grower produced by the New Zealand Farm Forestry Association, contains a nice article by blackwood grower and sawmiller Paul Millen (NZTG 38(1) p. 7-8).

Paul runs a business called Marlborough Timbers.

Here’s the story in summary:

  • 8 plantation blackwood trees milled
  • Tree age: 30 years
  • Tree dbh: 30 – 60cm
  • Pruned height: 4 – 6m
  • Total log volume: 10 cubic metres
  • Total sawn recovery: 4.0 cubic metres
  • Total sawn recovery: 40%
  • Three to four logs per tree were milled, at lengths between 2.4 metres and 3.6 metres, including unpruned logs from above the pruning lift that were targeted to produce decorative knotty flooring.
  • Knotty boards were rough sawn 157 x 27mm and sold green at $NZ1800 per cubic metre. In future they hope to sell this grade of knotty blackwood for $NZ2,500 green or $NZ3,000 kiln dried.
  • They hope to sell kiln dried clear (select) grade blackwood for $NZ4,000 per cubic metre, which equates with what Malcolm Mackenzie is selling select grade blackwood into the NZ market:

Here’s a link to the article (pdf file):

Milling blackwood in the Marlborough Sounds NZTG 38-1

I got the extra information from Paul to help fill out the story.

Blackwood is a niche timber that I suggest is like the pinot noir variety of New Zealand exotic timbers. The timber has some incredible colour and diversity, and it is a relatively easy hardwood to saw and season. There is a lot of satisfaction in producing a really top notch product. I know there is some excellent mature well-managed farm forestry stands and these growers deserve to receive a high return given the demanding silviculture required to manage these early plantations.

Maybe the New Zealanders should market blackwood as Noirwood!!

As more of the New Zealand farm-grown blackwood resource matures we will be seeing more of these success stories.

Thanks to Paul Millen for the story and further information.

Good news story – Great returns from small blocks

Great returns.jpg

Following on from my previous blog about the importance of front line troops in the forest industry, here coincidently is a recent fantastic example from New Zealand.

This is the kind of media the forest industry needs to generate on a regular basis to stimulate interest and investment.

New Zealand has a very successful forest industry which is a major contributor to that country’s economy, without taxpayer subsidies.

Sure they have their challenges – that’s fundamental in business. Any business that doesn’t have challenges is going out of business quick smart.

Those clever Kiwis know how to run a proper forest industry.

It’s nothing to do with blackwood apart from showing that farmers can grow trees on a small scale and make very good money, provided Government and industry policies are right and the market’s working properly.

Kevin Thomsen, a small farm forester at Hawkes Bay, harvested just 8.6 hectares of well managed pine grown on land not suited to other land uses. And here are the results:

The harvesting results far exceeded expectations for 24 and 25 year old trees. Key statistics averaged across the two blocks (both Radiata pine) are:


Per hectare log yield of 875 tonnes over 8.6 hectares.


Net income (stumpage) of $NZ528,297


Net income (stumpage) per hectare $NZ61,430


Net income (stumpage) per hectare per year of $NZ2,507


Net income (stumpage) per tonne of $NZ67.63

Kevin credits a lot of this successful result and “stress-free harvesting” to PF Olsen and “the specialised marketing division based in Rotorua who have access to a number of competing overseas buyers of our logs.”

Clearly Mr Thomsen, besides having a well managed quality resource to sell, was close to markets and had easy harvesting conditions.

What a great story!

And another thing we don’t have here in Australia – great forest product market information like that provided by PF Olsen:

When will Tasmania get a fully commercial profitable forest industry?

New Zealand Blackwood Market Report

The latest edition of New Zealand Tree Grower Vol 37(4) has a market report from blackwood grower Malcolm Mackenzie.

It makes for positive reading given the NZ blackwood market is still in its infancy.

As a farmer Malcolm has made a significant investment in farm forestry including 30 ha of plantation blackwood now 30 years old and reaching commercial maturity.

You can read Malcolm’s previous articles about blackwood milling and collective marketing here:

And watch a video about Malcolm the tree grower here:

As the report shows, with less than three years data, both the volume and the value of blackwood being sold by Malcolm is increasing.

As the NZ market gains confidence in the quality and quantity of the home grown product things will only improve.

New Zealand farm-grown blackwood is a great product. I’m looking forward to the day it will be available for sale here in Australia.


Plantation blackwood resonator guitar


Wellington, New Zealand-based luthier Paddy Burgin has created another beautiful musical instrument using plantation-grown blackwood.

Made for a local (NZ) steel player who wanted an instrument made totally from NZ grown woods. Paddy’s plantation-grown blackwood comes from Golden Bay at the northern tip of New Zealand’s south island. The tree was about 35 years old when harvested.

I only wish more instrument buyers and luthiers would take the plantation tonewood challenge and try plantation grown blackwood.

Great work Paddy!

Wish List


The forest industry in Tasmania is heading towards oblivion, at least the part of the industry dependent on the public native forest resource. Decades of poor policy, politics and conflict have reduced the industry to a smoking ruin. But we seem to have trouble learning from past mistakes and from other people’s successes. Getting people to invest in the forest industry (from planting trees to investing in sawmilling and processing equipment) just won’t happen under the current regime. So here is my one dozen wish list:

  1. We need to start thinking of forestry as a primary industry and not as a Government-run, politically-driven, employment program. Sure it has a few unique features like a long investment time lag, but forestry is about business and profits; markets, costs and prices. It is not about politics or employment! Most wood now grown and sold in Australia comes from private tree growers. It is time to put the policy focus on private growers.One example of this change in focus would be to move Private Forests Tasmania (PFT) from the Department of State Growth Tasmania to the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment (DPIPWE). At the moment this DPIPWE website contains no mention of forestry at all: isn’t forestry regarded as a primary industry in Tasmania?

    Also the Government Minister responsible for PFT/DPIPWE should also be responsible for Forestry Tasmania, so that all commercial forest policy and practice is aligned with primary industry policy. Does that sound logical or what?

  2. And like all primary industries the only basis for a successful forest industry is for tree growing (public and private) to be transparently profitable.That’s the golden rule! It’s that simple!Commercially focused, profitable tree growers are the foundation of a successful forest industry. The forest industry is not about subsidizing the sawmillers, papermakers, or woodchippers, or the furniture makers, craftsmen, luthiers or boatbuilders. These people are important, but without profitable tree growers they are irrelevant. Forest industry policy should be focused on profitable tree growers.
  3. We need to get the politics and conflict out of the industry. That means either a) completely transforming Forestry Tasmania into an independent, fully commercial, profitable business, or b) shutting down public native forest logging. There are no other options!
  4. Public and private tree growers must be able to compete in the marketplace on a level playing field. This means no more subsidies or political protection for public tree growers. Forestry Tasmania must be structured and managed just like a private tree grower – independent, fully commercial and profitable. Anything else is anti-competitive.
  5. The Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association (TFGA) needs to become a genuine independent, vigorous advocate for private forest growers. The interests of private forest growers are not the same as those of sawmillers, or Forestry Tasmania nor the Government of the day. A thriving commercially competitive, profitable forest industry can only exist when private tree growers have a strong, fearless, independent voice.
  6. It’s time for the forest industry (and I’m talking about everyone here from tree growers to wood processors and log exporters) to publically demonstrate some real commercial muscle. Where are the profits? Where are the prices? Where are the markets? Where is the transparency and market feedback? For far too long the industry has focused on political muscle. It’s time to “put the rubber to the road” and lead by commercial example.
  7. Unlike many other primary industry markets, Australia’s forestry markets have historically been opaque to near invisible, and continue to be that way. Hidden markets do not encourage investment in planting and infrastructure. The forest industry in New Zealand issues regular monthly market reports. This helps everyone better understand the marketplace. We desperately need similar transparency in forestry markets here in Australia.
  8. To help overcome the natural reluctance of many people to make the long-time investment in forestry (the time between planting and harvesting), the industry needs to be incredibly (aggressively??) transparent in the marketplace. This means lots of market reports and updates, lots of price and demand information, etc. We need significant market stimulation to help landowners get past the big time factor!!
  9. Farmers need to have greater understanding and confidence in forestry markets. Again this requires forestry markets to be much more transparent and commercially focused; just like other rural commodities. Investing in forestry is not easy. There’s the technical stuff and the long investment period, and just the switch to thinking “long term”. When we start getting forestry market updates in the rural media then I will know that the forest industry has come of age.
  10. The forest industry needs a new Forest Practices Code, or rather it doesn’t. Let me explain.The forest industry in New Zealand is huge (bigger than Australia’s) and very successful, but New Zealand does not have a Forest Practices Code. Imagine that! In New Zealand they regard the forest industry as just another primary industry, which must abide by the same code of environmental practice as all the other primary industries. It’s called a level playing field.The code is called the Resource Management Act 1991, and it applies to most primary industries. It is designed to protect environmental values regardless of land use. So growing trees for wood production has the same regulatory framework as other primary land uses. A brilliant idea!Here in Tasmania the forest industry is far and away the most (over?) regulated primary industry in the State. This creates market distortions and discourages sensible land use and investment decisions.Forest plantations on already cleared land should be no more or less regulated that any other agricultural crop. For many Tasmanians that will be a very difficult thing to imagine after the MIS hardwood plantation disaster.

    (And whilst on the subject of New Zealand, the forest industry there survives without any resource security. That’s right! Whatever trees the private forest growers have to sell is the only resource available to industry. That’s all. If a sawmiller wants “resource security” then they need to pay a competitive price to stay in business. The issue of “resource security” is a furphy!)

  11. And following on from the previous item, why do we have Private Timber Reserves in Tasmania? not Private Onion Reserves, Private Poppy Reserves, Private Cow Reserves or Private Apple Reserves? In fact why not make all primary industries subject to a single Statewide planning system? Wouldn’t that be fairer? We could even call it the Resource Management Act!
  12. And finally I’d like to see Tasmanian farmers incorporate commercial blackwood growing into their business models (either plantation or native bush), developing the skills, passion and expertise in growing this iconic quality Tasmanian product. But this won’t happen to any extent unless change occurs within the forest industry and Government policy.

When you compare my wish list with the current forest industry you can see an enormous abyss. Current forest policy is focused on a public native forest resource, a bankrupt, non-commercial public forest manager, a handful of taxpayer-subsidised sawmillers and processors, and enormous amounts of politics and community conflict. It has been this way for decades!

It seems that none of this will change unless the TFGA (on behalf of private forest growers) start demanding reform. And based on recent events I can’t see this happening any time soon.

What do you think? Comments? Continue reading

United Forestry Group NZ


Notice was given of the formation of this New Zealand organisation in my story back in August.

So here they are up and running with their own website.

And here’s a collection of “cut and paste” from that website to give you an idea of what they have to offer the small forest owner in New Zealand.

United Forestry Group | UFG

A strong new company, United Forestry Group Ltd (UFG), has been formed in New Zealand to help the owners of some 14,000 small plantation forests, totalling more than half a million hectares, with the challenge of marketing a  “wall of wood” coming to maturity  over the next two decades.

Mission Statement

To unite the interests of forest owners to provide innovative and attractive harvesting options incorporating world class logistics and marketing resources delivering excellent commercial and community benefits.

Our approach will assist small forest owners to compete with the owners of larger forests who currently enjoy the advantages of economies of scale and greater expertise.

About Us

Joining with United Forestry Group (UFG) will enable small forest owners to compete more successfully and achieve better returns than by trying to go it alone.

United Forestry Group (UFG) shareholders bring local forestry management expertise and contacts together with considerable financial resources, long established contacts in the Asian and local markets, and shipping and supply chain expertise.

Joint Venture Superpen Limited, a NZ company, is a cornerstone investor in the new company. Partners in the joint venture are major players in timber exporting – international timber marketer Pentarch of Australia and Chinese conglomerate Xiamen Xiangyu, which has considerable logistics, shipping and and supply chain assets.

The Superpen joint venture will deliver expertise, contacts with timber buyers, shipping services and financial strength to United Forestry Group (UFG).

Financial Strength

Our financial strength, our expertise and contacts, and a strategy devised to improve the return from small forests whether by marketing to local processors or overseas buyers, are the key.

Our size and resources will enable us to buy and consolidate existing forests and co-ordinate orderly harvesting, marketing and shipping. Our approach enables small foresters to join with us and extract the maximum possible return – the lowest possible cost and and the best possible price. At the same time we offer forest owners investment opportunities if they wish to participate in the wider forestry industry.

Asset Protection and Security

We believe that union is strength and that owners of a single small forest are vulnerable because of their limited bargaining power and marketing ability.

Consolidating forests through UFG (United Forestry Group) will enable you to enjoy the benefits of economies of scale, greater bargaining power and greater expertise. It will be possible to manage a consolidated forest resource sustainably to produce better outcomes and to time the market better.

Consolidation will protect your asset and give you greater security.


I doubt we will see anything like this in Tasmania anytime soon but it sure sounds like a great idea.

It will be interesting to see whether they can attract the support of small forest growers and become a major player in the New Zealand forest industry.

Those New Zealand farm foresters are lucky to have such an option.

Go to the website and check them out.

Trees on Farms videos (featuring blackwood)

I’ve recently realised that the New Zealand Farm Forestry Association has posted videos on their excellent website featuring farmers who grow blackwood. on Farms videos

Two of these videos are particularly good.

One features Malcolm McKenzie who is a passionate farmer and blackwood grower. Trees are combined with dairy support grazing on this 57-hectare block, with trees occupying the steeper land. Malcolm grows top-quality blackwoods as well as poplar, cypresses and radiata pine. Markets for blackwoods are discussed.

The other video features Northland farmer Brian Simms. Brian’s farm combines grazing with high value trees. Tree species planted include radiata pine, blackwood and silky oak (Grevillea robusta). Brian plants for erosion control and beautification of the farm, while also producing high value timber.

The passion and enthusiasm of these farmers is clearly evident. All of these videos are well worth watching. Much of the country reminds me of areas in northern Tasmania. Excellent farming country with pockets of steep and difficult land very suitable for growing high value timber such as blackwood.

Now how do we encourage Tasmanian farmers to copy their Kiwi peers?