Category Archives: Plantations

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!

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Queensland farmers growing African mahogany in plantations

MahoganyNQ

This recent ABC Landline story introduced me to yet another group of Australian farmers who are getting on and growing quality high value timber for the marketplace:

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-08-26/african-mahogany:-plantation-forestry-could-value/10166656

African mahogany (Khaya senegalensis) has a 200+ year reputation as a premium quality hardwood, but supplies from West Africa are all but exhausted.

Check out their website:

http://mahoganynq.com/

and on Facebook

https://www.facebook.com/MahoganyNQ/

These people are at the stage of first harvest and looking to break in to the fickle Australian timber market.

The question now is – will the Australian market support these farmers in their efforts to build a new forest industry?

To date the Australian market (architects, builders, joiners, furniture makers, consumers, etc.) has shown little interest in encouraging and supporting Australian farmers growing trees for wood production.

It’s well past time for that attitude to change.

This is a great story and definitely needs everyones support.

Who said Australian farmers won’t grow timber?

Now!

Anyone for growing Tasmanian blackwood?

Reflections on New Zealand

MWE

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.

Potential

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?

Wood Festival

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.

http://www.malenywoodexpo.com/

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.

Building markets

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.

Architects

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!

http://www.nzffa.org.nz

https://www.nzia.co.nz/

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!

Blackwood

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.

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

Heartwood

http://www.agroforestry.net.au/main.asp?_=heartwood%20book

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:

HeartwoodTOC

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:

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-02-16/victoria-ash-timber-facing-fresh-crisis-supply-issues/9424290?smid=Page:%20ABC%20News-Facebook_Organic&WT.tsrc=Facebook_Organic&sf182264054=1

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!

Farmers and forestry

Plantation

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.

http://pft.tas.gov.au/

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:

https://www.stategrowth.tas.gov.au/energy_and_resources/forestry/special_species_timber_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.

New Zealand Tree Growers Enjoying Good Times

Pine

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.

http://www.laurieforestry.co.nz/Monthly-Newsletter

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

http://www.nzffa.org.nz/market-report/

http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/BU1711/S00809/nz-structural-log-prices-rise-to-24-year-high.htm

It’s mostly about China and export markets.

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

Why?

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?

Standing Tall?

Farmer

What can you say about Tasmania farmers trying to grow trees for profit in what must be one of the most hostile marketplaces in the world for growing trees.

Why hostile? Tasmania is equivalent to the forest industry Middle East – a political/commercial/social war zone for the past 35 years with no peace in sight.

Are they deluded? Are they brave? Are they profitable?

They are certainly dedicated and passionate.

These farmers need to be wearing full body armour.

The ABC rural program Landline recently did a segment of farm forestry in Tasmania.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-11-04/standing-tall:-tasmanias-forestry-future/9119218

As demand for timber outstrips local supply, the CSIRO is encouraging Tasmanian farmers and private landowners to join the agroforestry sector.

Even that one promotion sentence by the ABC is enough to make me despair.

Here’s a news story the ABC did about the Landline feature:

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-11-05/tasmania-farmers-sow-agroforestry-seeds-as-demand-for-wood-rises/9109216

It’s not a story I find very encouraging. In fact if I was a farmer reading this I’d be having a quiet laugh over my coffee.

As a forester I’ve been reading stories like these for the past 40 years whilst watching the forest industry march to oblivion. It’s the same old story, which hasn’t changed in 40 years. Obviously the story doesn’t work. Why?

One of the problems for these farmers is that they have no power in the political, social or commercial marketplace. They have no voice. No one represents their interests.

Notionally the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association (TFGA) is supposed to represent the interests of farm forestry, but they do nothing. Why? Because doing something means standing up to the politicians and a sycophantic industry.

The TFGA can’t even create a farm forestry vision for the future. Not a single policy.

http://www.tfga.com.au/

So farmers like Graham and Roger are in No Man’s Land, caught between warring parties.

The ONLY basis for a successful forest industry is profitable tree growers, with minimal political and community conflict.

Tasmania is a very long way from that objective.