Category Archives: Plantations

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.

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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.

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