Category Archives: Plantations

Hoop pine

Hoop

The recent discussion about Bunya pine and the tonewood market led me to wonder about Queensland Hoop pine (Araucaria cunninghamii)

Hoop pine is the only premium plantation timber species currently harvested in Australia. Some 500 ha are harvested each year. It is not known how much wood is produced from this harvest.

As such Hoop pine provides the only example in Australia of what a future plantation blackwood market might look like; with the one exception that if I was around I would be trumpeting the blackwood market dynamics as much as possible. Market transparency is vital!

Here’s a Hoop pine fact sheet from the Queensland government:

http://era.daf.qld.gov.au/id/eprint/3931/4/hoop%20pine%20final%20factsheet_update%20May%202017.pdf

(Curious how these forest fact sheets never talk about economics or log prices, as if investing in trees has nothing to do with money!)

The 44,500 ha of Hoop pine plantations were established by the Queensland Government but were sold when the Government decided to privatise the forest plantation resource in 2010, and are now owned by the one company,  Hancock Timber Resource Group, with the plantations managed by HQPlantations.

http://www.hqplantations.com.au/araucaria.html

So far as I’m aware the forest industry is not seeking to encourage the expansion of the Hoop pine plantation resource. Given that the Hoop pine owners pay no local Government rates, expansion of this resource by competing landowners will be difficult.

No one will ever know how much the market is paying for Hoop pine logs. It’s difficult enough to find Hoop pine timber retail prices. Timber merchants positively hate advertising their prices. So the economics of plantation Hoop pine as an investment are unknown and that’s the way the forest industry likes it.

If you spend a lot of time searching on the internet you may find the following economic study of plantation hoop pine investment:

Herbohn, J.L. 2006, ‘Potential financial returns from Hoop Pine and an assessment of the likely impacts of various support measures on landholder willingness to plant’, in Harrison, S.R. and Herbohn, J.L (ed.), Proceedings of Sustainable Forest Industry Development in Tropical North Queensland; Cooperative Research Centre for Tropical Rainforest Ecology and Management, Rainforest CRC, Cairns.

Herbohn 2006

The study uses a stumpage of just $70 per cubic metre for a 45-50 year-old plantation grown premium wood product!!

That would certainly kill any landholder willingness to plant!

All a 2012 Queensland Government report on the State forest industry could say about Hoop pine was these 60 words:

Araucaria (hoop pine) plantations consist largely of plantings of hoop pine (Araucaria cunninghamii), with smaller areas of bunya pine (Araucaria bidwillii). However, araucaria log timber is relatively costly to produce because of high management and harvesting inputs, largely as a result of the steep sites on which it has been established and high pruning costs. Crop rotation lengths are also very long at around 40 to 50 years.

State of Queensland (2012) Queensland forest and timber industry situation analysis.

It doesn’t sound encouraging does it?

Nevertheless I managed to track down one Hoop pine retail price list:

HoopPriceChart

It’s a curious price list in terms of the limited sizes available and the prices. High prices for small cuts but not for big cuts. Wide boards (140mm) are cheaper, with thicker wide boards (31mm) being cheaper than thin boards (12mm). The prices on the range of 42mm wide boards (8, 19, 31 and 42 mm) provides for some curious deliberation.

What is clear is that these represent premium prices (~$9,000 per cubic metre) for premium plantation timber. Compare these prices with the $2,500 per cubic metre for dressed premium grade Radiata pine from Bunnings Hardware:

https://blackwoodgrowers.com.au/2016/07/01/bunnings-timber-price-lists/

It would certainly be interesting to know the details of the business model the Hoop pine plantation owner uses to maximise returns to the company. Just exactly how profitable are these plantations to the owner? This price list gives us few clues.

If any readers have Hoop pine growing I’d love to hear your stories. Send us a comment.

Pruning blackwood

Here’s a couple of blackwood pruning questions from David in South Gippsland, Victoria.

Example 1

How would you tackle this one?

Cootes1

That’s an easy one David!

Read the Blackwood Growers Handbook Pages 55-60.

You have at least 2 clear options on this tree – the dominant on the left or the dominant on the right.

Blackwoods have an amazing ability to straighten up if you encourage them with good pruning.

Be brave!

PS. I should mention that Spring is the time to prune blackwoods. This gives the trees a whole growing season to begin healing the pruning wounds.

Example 2:

I think a deer might have got at this one

Cootes2

Looks like it!

The tree is fundamentally compromised from a quality wood production point of view.

I think with this one I would prune it to ground level and let the blackwood coppice. Then after a year select the best coppice shoot.

Try and get some venison sausages!!

Cheers.

Notes on West coast (NZ) blackwoods

IanBrown

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:

http://www.nzffa.org.nz/farm-forestry-model/species/blackwood/#Blackwood handbook

Here’s the update:

http://www.nzffa.org.nz/nzffa-member-blogs/ian-browns-blog/notes-on-west-coast-blackwoods/

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).

http://www.nzffa.org.nz/

Paul runs a business called Marlborough Timbers.

http://www.marlboroughtimbers.co.nz/

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:
  • https://blackwoodgrowers.com.au/2016/11/21/new-zealand-blackwood-market-report/

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.

Bold plan to breathe new life into SW timber industry

ffl

SW? As in south west Western Australia!

Just like the rest of Australia the logging of public native forests in south west Western Australia has been a battle ground for decades, with the forest industry now on its last legs needing continuous Government support.

The local forest conservation group the Western Australian Forest Alliance has come up with a plan to rebuild the forest industry and create jobs. The Plan is called Forests for Life.

http://forestsforlife.org.au/the-plan/

Normally I would be a bit sceptical of any industry plan developed by environmentalists, and from my reading the FFL plan certainly has some weaknesses.

What I do like though is that the broader community are getting behind the Plan, including the local Augusta/Margaret River Council.

http://www.amrshire.wa.gov.au/news/media-releases/1005/bold-plan-to-breathe-new-life-into-sw-timber-industry/

Here at last is the community taking the lead, showing initiative, adopting a positive attitude and working together.

This I like!!

The question now is will the forest industry and the WA State government get behind and support the Plan. The Western Australian Farmers Federation also needs to be brought on board to help give the Plan some economic credibility and community support.

I’ve already seen the potential for growing Tasmanian blackwood in SW Western Australia:

https://blackwoodgrowers.com.au/2015/11/11/blackwood-in-western-australia/

Imagine this happening here in Tasmania?

Carrabin first inventory

IMG_0482.jpeg

A few months back I had the opportunity to do the first inventory measurement of the Carrabin blackwood plantation.

You can read about this plantation in my previous blogs including the major thinning in 2013:

https://blackwoodgrowers.com.au/2013/11/13/carrabin-first-thinning/

The plantation is now 16 years old and 3 years since its major thinning.

There are still about 20 trees to be removed before the plantation reaches its final stocking of approximately 36 trees. The above picture shows recent thinning in progress.

In all 39 trees were marked and measured. Here are the results:

Carrabin Table

Note that the objective is to grow blackwood trees that have single straight stems pruned to at least 6.0 metres, and a breast height diametre (DBHOB) of 60cm when harvested.

Because of the close initial planting (2x2m) and the delayed thinning, the remaining trees do not have the diameter I would expect for this age. The largest trees are 27 cm diameter.

As these trees rebuild their crowns following the 2013 thinning I expect the diameter growth rate to increase. Another inventory in 5 years will tell us whether this has happened.

This blackwood plantation is a real credit to the commitment and dedication of the owner.

This is how the special timbers industry should be in Tasmania. Not a politically motivated taxpayer-funded junket into our last remaining public old growth forests.

 

 

Plantation blackwood resonator guitar

Burgin_resonator.jpg

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

http://www.burginguitars.co.nz/

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.

https://www.facebook.com/paddy.burgin/media_set?set=a.10154096475482429.1073741829.692202428&type=3

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

Great work Paddy!