Category Archives: Plantations

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?

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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.

Two Great Videos from New Zealand

As many people know the New Zealand forest industry is fully commercial and very successful; perhaps the most successful forest industry in the world.

It is a major contributor to the NZ economy both from local processing and log export. The industry is still largely based on Radiata pine, but that is slowly changing.

The New Zealand Farm Forestry Association (NZFFA) helps to ensure that New Zealand farmers have a strong voice in the forest industry.

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

They also have a strong focus on extension and support to the farming community.

These two videos are great examples of that focus.

The first video focuses on the economics and commercial returns to growers from forestry investment. These are real examples from real farmers making good money growing trees.

Returns from Harvesting

The second video shows examples of farmers who have grown, milled and used their own timber. Towards the end of this video is blackwood grower and miller Paul Millen talking about farm-grown and milled blackwood.

Using Timber from Trees on Farms

Two inspiring videos for existing or prospective farm tree growers.

Other videos that are worth watching can be found here:

http://www.nzffa.org.nz/farm-forestry-model/resource-centre/trees-on-farms-videos/

It’s a shame we don’t have anything like this from Australia/Tasmania!

Gippsland Blackwood Plantation Management Workshop

GAN1

These are notes from a recent workshop:

On Sunday afternoon 22nd April the Gippsland Agroforestry Network (GAN) held a blackwood workshop. The aim was to look at the options of managing a blackwood plantation and put some theory into practice.

In 2011 about a hectare of blackwood was planted on an alluvial creek flat as part of a stream front revegetation project. The blackwoods were planted as tubes at a spacing of  2m x 2m. The intention was to encourage straight vertical growth of the young trees and to restrict their propensity to fork and branch. The trees are now in the order of 6m tall and ranging from 8 to 15 cm diameter at breast height (1.3m).

The field day discussed the New Zealand view that the only way to control the blackwoods  enthusiasm to fork and branch was to continually (annually) form prune and to remove any side branches from the central stem if they were more than 2cm in diameter. Viewing the trees, it was considered that this was probably the best option as despite being form pruned in 2014 (as 3yo stems)  and lift pruned to 2m in 2015, there was considerable forking and co-dominant stems that had emerged since. The conclusion was that form pruning should have been carried out as an annual activity (at least) over the past 3 years.

I hope the field day discussed the New Zealand 3 principles of good blackwood management.

So what is the first of the three principles?

  1. Good site selection.

Was there any discussion about the planting site in terms of rainfall, soils and wind exposure? Without good site selection the chances of success are very limited.

What is the second principle?

2. Good establishment.

The trees were tube stock planted at 2×2 m spacing.

What was the site preparation?

What was the weed control?

Was any fertiliser added?

Was any browsing protection/control used?

And finally what is the third principle?

3. Good management.

We know the trees were form pruned in 2014 and lift pruned in 2015.

New Zealanders talk about annual browsing control, weed control and pruning.

Was weed control used in the first few years?

Every blackwood field day/workshop should focus on the New Zealand 3 Principles.

The need to thin the plantation was also discussed. Clearly, the trees were competing given the close planting and a number had died. Small lower branches above the 2m lift prune were largely dead, significant leaf fall had occurred and the ground beneath the trees was totally bare.  Misshapen trees were identified for culling and there was debate as to the best way to remove them. Stem injection was considered but rejected due to the risk of flashback. It was decided that cutting at ground level was the best option with the wallaby population taking care of the regrowth.  There was also discussion as to the extent of the thinning. Removing all the identified trees (about 60%) would remove much of the vertical stimulus and probably encourage further forking .  As a result, it was agreed that about half the identified trees would be removed this winter and the rest in 12 months. It was noted that this would also reduce the amount of debri on the ground at the one time. The proposed thinning would reduce the density from the current 2000 stems / ha to about 1400 with the second half of the thinning reducing this to about 800.

Lift pruning was then carried out on the selected trees to about 4m and further form pruning was undertaken.

It would be interesting to see what his plantation looks like after some thinning and pruning.

Judging by the photos there would appear to be an opportunity to rescue this plantation.

Thanks to David for passing these notes on.

GAN2

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.