Category Archives: Plantations

Timber supply chain constraints in the Australian plantation sector

pine2

https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/House/Standing_Committee_on_Agriculture_and_Water_Resources/Timbersupply

On 26 September 2019, the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Water Resources received a referral from Assistant Minister Duniam for an inquiry into timber supply chain constraints in the Australian plantation sector.

The Committee invites submissions addressing any or all of the terms of reference for the inquiry.

Submissions are requested by Monday, 17 August 2020.

The Committee is dominated by conservative Government members so the chances of anything useful coming from the inquiry are very limited.

Nevertheless here is my submission

Submission

Yet another inquiry into the forest industry in Australia!!!

I think it would be useful for the Committee to do a quick review/summary of every other forest industry inquiry/report. There have been hundreds over the past 50 years, with most of their recommendations having never been implemented.

The Committee could seek to answer the question why have so few previous recommendations been implemented?

Terms of Reference

To inquire and report on:

  • the nature of wood supply from Australia’s plantation sector including:
    • Projected timber volumes available over the next 30 years and the potential grades of logs available.

The question needs to be asked, does current and projected wood supply from Australia’s plantation sector meet current and future needs? Answer. NO!

The next question needs to be asked, if growing timber in Australia is profitable why doesn’t everyone (farmers) know about it? If it is not profitable, then what is the point of this inquiry?

Another relevant question is, what’s wrong with imported timber? If New Zealand farmers can grow timber cheaper than Australia then good luck to them I say! We do not need to be self sufficient in wood products just for the sake of self sufficiency!

 

  • The plantation wood supply available for domestic softwood processors including:
    • Current and future demand for logs for domestic processors; and
    • Any shortfall in current processing industry demand for logs.

This TOR definitely smacks of protectionism and market manipulation. Do you want farmers to invest in trees? If so then get rid of this protectionist bullshit. Domestic processors must compete in open competitive transparent markets, otherwise the domestic processors become increasingly high cost and uncompetitive, which has negative impacts throughout the supply chain from growers to retailers and consumers.

 

  • The competitiveness of log pricing between domestic and export market.

Who in Australia knows what the domestic and export log prices are, let alone whether they are competitive? I’m a forester with 40 years in the industry and I have never ever known!! What does that tell the Committee?

A former Director of Forestry Tasmania once said:

The lack of price transparency for forest products, particularly from hardwood forests/plantations [in Australia], represents an impediment to the uptake of farm forestry. Unlike other commodities, price information for forest products is not published through the newspaper or accessible online. Better price transparency is required to encourage smallscale investment in trees.

Curiously Forestry Tasmania has never ever supported price transparency.

New Zealand has a REAL forest industry with excellent log price transparency. Australia has a completely dysfunctional forest industry.

 

  • The term of log supply contracts needed to support the processing sectors.

This TOR, like the second TOR above, is all about destroying the forest industry through market manipulation and protectionist policies. Local processors must compete in open competitive transparent markets. It is NOT the job of dairy farmers to subsidise cheese makers NOR is it the job of tree growers to subsidise local industry.

 

  • Opportunities to increase Australia’s wood supply, including identifying and addressing barriers to plantation establishment.

There are abundant opportunities to increase Australia’s wood supply, but they are vastly outnumbered by the barriers to plantation establishment. Many previous forest industry reports have addressed these issues, with all those previous reports now collecting dust on library shelves around Australia.

I have to ask why we need yet another report when the answers are already known! The forest industry in Australia is completely dysfunctional. Does it behave like a commercial business desperately wanting a future? No it does not!

 

  • The role that state governments could have in assisting in addressing any problems identified by the work of this committee.

All State Governments that engage in public native forestry (WA, Vic, NSW and Qld) are all engaged in industry-destroying Welfare Forestry. Welfare Forestry is all about subsiding processors and “saving jobs”. It has nothing at all to do with real commercial forestry.

The forestry industry in Australia has no future whilst Welfare Forestry continues to undermine the industry.

State Governments should be encouraging profitable tree growing, but all of them refuse to do this.

 

  • Make any recommendations around any code of conduct or management mode that could assist in addressing any problems identified by the work of this committee.

Please read all previous reports and inquiries and implement the recommendations!

But as just one example, New Zealand has a single set of environmental regulations that apply to all primary producers. The regulations do not discriminate against the forest industry. Similarly to overcome differences between local Council regulations, the NZ forest industry implemented a single set of plantation management guidelines that work across the entire country. Contrast this with Australia where the industry faces a mountain of diverse changing regulations across the country.

How can Australia hope to compete with NZ? We can’t! It is not possible!

 

Blackwood

Blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon) is Australia’s premium appearance grade timber. It can be grown successful in plantations, as NZ farmers are doing, and potentially it has a very high market value. But most blackwood comes from Tasmania where the State government and the forest industry work to undermine the market and supply the market with cheap taxpayer subsidised blackwood. Transparent competitive markets for blackwood do not exist because neither the Government nor industry want transparent competitive markets.

Attempting to establish a Tasmanian Blackwood Growers Cooperative is therefore impossible due to Government and industry policy.

Conclusion

I’m a forester with 40+ years experience in the industry. And for all that time, after hundreds of forest industry plans/strategies/inquiries and reports the industry in Australia remains moribund and dysfunctional.

New Zealand has a real forest industry, one of the most successful in the world. But we choose not to learn from their example. Up until 1990 the NZ forest industry was run by the Government, including public native forestry, plantations and sawmills. In the early 1990s the New Zealand Government decided to get out of the forest industry entirely. Public native forestry was shut down, and plantations and sawmills were sold. Since then the NZ industry has gone from strength to strength, and is now one of New Zealands major industries; fully private, commercial and profitable!! Do they still have challenges and opportunities? Absolutely! But they are committed and capable of resolving every one!!

The NZ forest industry is now 30 years ahead of the Australian forest industry and pulling further ahead of us every day. Will Australia even have a forest industry in another 30 years time? Not if we keep going the way we are!

Good luck with your Committee and its report and recommendations.

 

Sincerely,

 

Dr Gordon Bradbury

Hobart

Tasmania

Market for Plantation Grown Wood: Where we’re at and where we’re going

marketreport

https://www.pft.tas.gov.au/home/home_articles/market_for_plantation_grown_wood_where_were_at_and_where_were_going

Mr Andrew Morgan from SFM Forest Products calls this a Market Report!

https://www.sfmes.com.au/

I call it a load of fluffy woolley nonsense!

A total waste of time!!

Sorry Andrew but you deserve a complete bucketing for that mess!

Never mind the total absence of any objective market data (of which SFM Forest Products would have an abundance), the overall sentiment of the article is that the forest industry is full of risks and uncertainties. Better to put your money in a poker machine!!

Does the article inspire anyone to plant a tree for the future?

No way!

The forest industry continues to treat Tasmanian farmers as idiots, and Mr Morgans “Market Report” is a classic example.

By way of comparison here are two forest industry websites in New Zealand

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

Monthly market reports with real numbers, and hard data!!

And this one is even better…

https://nz.pfolsen.com/market-info-news/

The New Zealand forest industry treats the farming community as essential partners in the industry, with complete and total respect. The focus of the industry in NZ is profitable tree growing. It’s a unique and successful approach.

You wont find a single forest industry website in Australia that looks anything like these.

There are dozens, hundreds of other people out there in the forest industry and the broader marketplace that could be providing regular vital market information to farmers to encourage and support them to plant trees, but all these people, without exception, refuse to do so! Such is the culture within the industry.

I’ll give you ½ mark for trying Andrew and I expect a much better attempt NEXT MONTH!

Market failure & responsibility

thelmalouise

One of the major realisations I have made over the past 10 years is the complete failure of forestry and timber markets to take any responsibility for their own future.

Here is just one recent example:

Good Day Dr. Gordon Bradbury,

Hope you can introduce some seller or loggers milling Tasmania Blackwood Logs or lumber etc,

Sir we are Hong Kong based company and looking for looking for Tasmanian Blackwood logs 40cm plus in diameter to import if possible,  1-2×40′ containers, CIF Incheon, South Korea.

Will appreciate if you could send us your complete offer with certificate (FSC/PEFC),, provide some photos for checking the quality and shape on logs, lumbers and veneers, MOq, terms of payment, terms of inspection, estimated delivery time, yard location etc.

Thank you so very much for your kind help

Kind Regards

I get regular emails and SMS messages from people wanting to get their hands on cheap blackwood.

When I try to engage these people in my quest, which is to get the market to take responsibility and support, encourage and reward Tasmanian farmers to grow quality wood for the future, I get excuses of why they cannot help!

Here is one of my standard questions I ask these people:

Q: Do you care about the future of YOUR industry/business?

A: Moan, complain, apologise, blame others, too busy, etc., etc., etc…

Is the forestry/timber market so short-sighted, corrupt and stupid that it is willing to destroy its own future?

It would appear so!!

Log traders, furniture makers, craftspeople, luthiers, cabinet makers, architects, builders, retailers, festival organisers,etc.

Every one of these professions/trades seems to have no interest in their own future.

I don’t know of any other primary industry in Australia that has such a fatalistic attitude. Every other primary industry, beef, sheep, poultry, dairy, vegetables, fruit, grain, etc. all keep their growers uptodate, supported and informed with all the relevant information they need to keep these industries running smoothly and efficiently.

Not the forestry/timber market!

Yes forestry has long investment periods and some other unique characteristics, but this means that the market has to work that much harder to ensure its future.

Having plundered the worlds forests the forestry/timber market seems determined to do a “Thelma and Louise” and accelerate over the cliff to extinction.

And for those log merchants wanting cheap blackwood, all the existing resource in Tasmania is committed. Most of it comes for public native forest for the domestic welfare forestry sector. A small amount is salvaged from private property.

Here’s another way of looking at the issue. How many companies are there in Australia and around the world that use Tasmanian blackwood timber or would like too? Dozens? Hundreds? How many of these companies actively support and encourage the growing of Tasmanian blackwood? My guess! None!! Ziltch!!

I’m happy to be proven wrong.

Very few Tasmanians are planting blackwood for the future and the major reason is the careless attitude of the marketplace. The marketplace has a death wish!!

People I speak to who are interested in planting blackwood I tell them the truth – no one wants you to grow quality blackwood timber for the future. Nobody! No one will support or encourage you. In fact many people are actively working against you!

Why commit to a 30+ year investment growing quality timber when the marketplace couldn’t care less?

Planting Timber Forests on Australian Farms – a Reaction

NextGeneration

This recently published article in the University of Melbourne journal Pursuit caught my eye:

https://pursuit.unimelb.edu.au/articles/planting-timber-forests-on-australian-farms

The article provides a very brief overview of the Next Generation Forest Plantation Investment Project:

https://blogs.unimelb.edu.au/nextgenplantations

The Project itself covered a great deal of ground and hence there is a great deal of reading material in the 10 separate reports and supporting documents.

Trying to distil all this material down into a digestible take home message is a challenge in itself. And it depends upon the intended audience. I’m not sure the article succeeded, with too much focus on “new business models”.

As I’ve been writing for many years, the forest industry in Australia is in serious trouble on just about every level. Many of the problems faced by the industry are of its own making.

Past attempts to reset the industry and plan a way forward have largely focused on what Governments and taxpayers can do for the industry. Not surprisingly vast sums of money have been wasted, for little if any gain. Often the outcome has been disastrous!

One could say that confidence within the Australian forest industry is at an all time low.

Back to The Project and the article….

The positives:

  • A focus on farm forestry and a recognition that this IS the future of the forest industry (many others in the industry strongly disagree with this sentiment);
  • A recognition that the forest industry itself needs to change its attitudes and behaviour towards the broader rural community (this is a very rare admission!);
  • A recognition that the forest industry itself needs to take control of its own future and not expect Governments and taxpayers to do the job;
  • Within Report 10 of the Project is a list of 11 recommended actions which the forest industry itself should do to support more commercial tree investment on rural land. This is very rare indeed!

The negatives:

  • The Project covers too much ground! The forest industry just doesn’t have the resources to deal with half of the recommended Actions, even if it wanted too. And I expect half the industry just isn’t interested.
  • The article focuses on “new businesses models”, as if this is the keystone to all of the forest industries problems and potential. The article fails to convince me. I see other issues being more pressing and significant.
  • Where to next? With an enormous list of recommended actions the Report provides no clues to how any of these actions are to be implemented or by when. Will this Project become yet another forest industry dust collecting exercise?

About the best statement in the article is this:

The industry recognises that creating opportunities from more commercial trees on rural land will require them to change the way they interact with rural landowners.

That is a unique and extraordinary statement.

Meanwhile there is no evidence that the industry does in fact recognise the need for change.

So would the average Australian farmer be convinced by this article (assuming they even hear about this project)? I doubt it.

They would see the focus on “new business models” and assume it was Managed Investment Schemes (MIS) Mark 2, designed to take their money and land and rip them off yet again.

As far as the farming audience goes, the article has the wrong message.

So dear reader, tell me what you think of the article?

Are you brave enough to wade into all the Project Reports?

Happy  reading!

PS. Farm forestry has been promoted in Australia since the 1960s with very little progress over the last 50+ years. Has anyone in the forest industry ever asked the question – what are we doing wrong?

“They should have been planting extra trees 15 years ago,” one frustrated sawmill owner said

sawmill3

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-11-09/why-the-victorian-government-is-taking-an-axe-to-timber-industry/11687952?fbclid=IwAR0J9KGJbcZCmbexgIqHsrj47aV44vpqJXPjWRmgW2KYhbnZve_hWgExAFI

This quote from a native forest sawmiller pretty much sums up for me why the forest industry in Australia is in such a crisis!

Sure, it’s historical.

It comes from having a forest industry that up until 20 years ago was almost 100% Government run.

Why would anyone other than Government, take responsibility for growing the industry?

That is what the sawmiller meant when he said “they”. Politicians plant trees! Sawmillers cut them down! A complete absence of personal responsibility!!

And that attitude is still the dominant attitude within the forest industry in Australia, even when most timber now grown and harvested in Australia is privately owned.

Here we are in the 21st century and no one in the forest industry in Australia takes any responsibility for ensuring the industry’s future.

And when I say forest industry here I mean anyone whose business relies on wood, from retailers, craftspeople and manufacturers all the way back to loggers and sawmillers.

It is the job of the marketplace to ensure the forest industry has a future, not politicians or taxpayers.

This means an end to Welfare Forestry and a focus on profitable tree growing.

It also means a complete change of attitude and thinking within the industry.

And it means building strong enduring relationships with rural communities.

So when do we begin?

Blackwoods – selecting the best trees

NZFFA BROWN

Ian Brown is a blackwood grower and co-author of Blackwood A handbook for Growers and End Users, the New Zealand bible on all things blackwood.

He has recently written a fine update on blackwood research including some new findings about clonal blackwood. It is available on Ian’s blog on the New Zealand Farm Forestry Association website (link below):

https://www.nzffa.org.nz/nzffa-member-blogs/ian-browns-blog/blackwoods—selecting-the-best-trees/

Well worth reading.

Thanks Ian!!

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!

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!