Category Archives: Support

Market failure & responsibility


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?

CERES Fair Wood


“Fair Wood seeks to bridge the gap that exists between socially and environmentally conscious timber consumers and small Australian farm-foresters and saw millers.”

The momentum to create an alternative wood market away from public native forestry and illegal imported timbers is slowly growing in Australia.

Hooray for that!!

Here’s another new business looking to help create that vision.

Ceres Fair Wood is based in Melbourne.

I like the words “bridge the gap”!

At the moment the Fair Wood web page looks just like any other retailer – products to sell.

I hope one day soon the web page also has a “Growers” heading.

As the Fair Wood business grows it should be providing lots of market information back to the farming community, so that farmers get a very real sense that the market wants them to grow wood!!

In my opinion that is what is needed to “bridge the gap”!

Hooray for Fair Wood! Good luck guys!!

The forests behind the label – Why standards are not enough

Here’s a great Ted Talk about going beyond Forest Certification with the focus on small scale forest growers like existing and potential Tasmanian blackwood growers.

And when I think about the synergies between their connect-with-the grower model and a Tasmanian Blackwood Growers Cooperative I get excited.

This is just what Tasmanian blackwood growers need to get the support and recognition.

It’s about connecting consumers and manufacturers with forest growers.

What a great idea!

The Ted Talk is by Constance McDermott who is a James Martin Senior Fellow and Chair of the Forest Governance Group at the Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford.

This is a 12 minute talk well worth watching.

Research funding into forestry on farms


This article appeared in the news last night.

Money has been found by the Australian Federal Government to fund a project to “research to investigate the tree varieties, soil types and planning needed to introduce timber plantations on farm.”

The project is to be coordinated by the Forest & Wood Product Association:

As of this morning there was no mention of this project either as a proposal or as a reality on the FWPA website.

In fact if you look through the FWPA website farm forestry doesn’t seem to rate highly at all. Oh well! If you do a word search on “blackwood”, Australia’s premier appearance grade timber species for over 100 years, you get nothing at all!! Blackwood is just not on the FWPA radar. Curious!

Anyway back to the new item:

“FWPA managing director Ric Sinclair said funding for the research project would benefit both timber processors and farmers.

“This research is about giving decision support to farmers about how and where to put trees on their property that can maximise value,” he said.

Mr Sinclair said the industry had “learnt a lot” from the mistakes made by the agribusiness companies behind failed managed investment schemes.

Ross Hampton from the Australian Forest Products Association said growing trees on farms would lead to a significant increase in Australian timber resources.

“The resource is obviously fundamental for growth,” Mr Hampton said.

“We’ve had two large resource baskets in Australia — the plantations and the native forest area.

“What’s been missing in Australia really has been a large input from our farming community.”

I wonder what they mean by “maximise value”?

There is no mention at all about costs, prices, markets, demand and profitability.

The project focus seems to be about growing trees for domestic wood processors, rather than about improving profitability for farmers.

It’s curious that money can be found for yet another research project and yet another dust-covered report, rather than allocating money to help implement the 2005 Farm Forestry National Action Statement:

“What’s been missing in Australia really has been a large input from our farming community.”

Perhaps the farming community have been missing because until the forest industry starts behaving like every other primary industry, then farmers are not prepared to face the already significant risks associated with forest investment. Plenty of reports have identified reforms which the forest industry must implement in order to improve investment in planting. So far those reforms remain elusive!

Here’s just one example from a FWPA report:

“The lack of price transparency for forest products, particularly from hardwood forests/plantations, 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.”

Well I’m happy to say I’ve been doing my bit to help the blackwood market in the face of significant industry and Government apathy.

Hooray for Peter Adams

The Talking Point in today’s Mercury newspaper by furniture designer/maker and artist Peter Adams is a rare and much welcome alternative opinion in the ongoing nonsense around special timbers and the prospect of logging the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.


It is just so rare for someone within the forest industry to come out and publically challenge the current industry and policy orthodoxy.

From today forward, all timber workers, myself included, have to re-examine their use of speciality timbers.

That said, what I will never do is use any timber cut within the boundaries of a World Heritage Area. Nor should anyone.

My suggestion to Peter Adams and others (including consumers) is to:

  1. Use only farm-grown Tasmanian timbers;
  2. encourage Tasmanian farmers to grow more quality wood;
  3. pay Tasmanian farmers a price for their wood that reflects its real value and encourages more tree planting;
  4. support organisations such as mine that seek to encourage and teach farmers how to grow commercial blackwood in both plantations and remnant native forest.

Wood is not a taxpayer-subsidised community service. It is a commercial product.

Planting trees and managing plantations and forests costs real time and money.

The only way for Tasmania to have a successful forest industry, and realise the vision of Peter Adams, is for tree growing to be blatantly and transparently profitable.

Only Tasmanian farmers can make this happen; farmers who are passionate about growing a quality product.

I was up in the north west of the State this week for the first time in a while, and driving around imagining a rural landscape dotted with well managed forest remnants and plantations of blackwood. Instead I saw opportunities being wasted. Most farms have wet gullies, steep slopes and small areas too difficult to manage. Good land going to waste. These areas are just ideal for growing commercial blackwood.

One of the key things missing is the right commercial and political context to get these areas planted.

Peter Adams points the way to the future.

The Fall Limited Sweepstakes


Up for grabs, this beauty from Taylor Guitars. Unfortunately this sweepstakes is only open to US and Canadian residents.

The Taylor 510e-FLTD is a limited edition Dreadnought featuring Tasmanian blackwood back and sides and a Sitka spruce top. Neo-vintage aesthetic strokes include a shaded edgeburst body and neck, plus ivoroid appointments anchored by the Century fretboard inlay. We’ve partnered with Dunlop and to offer the perfect player package, which includes a personalized pick tin, a supply of Dunlop Primetone picks, and a Victor capo. The winner will also receive a one-year membership to with unlimited access to thousands of guitar lessons. One (1) grand prize winner will receive:

  • One (1) Taylor 510e-FLTD
  • One (1) Year Membership to
  • One (1) Year Supply of Primetone Guitar Picks
  • One (1) Dunlop Victor Capo
  • One (1) Personalized Dunlop Pick Tin.

Great prize and great promotion and support for Tasmanian blackwood from Taylor Guitars.

I wonder if I can get my sister in the US to enter the competition for me?

Bob Taylor wants more Tasmanian blackwood growers

The latest Wood and Steel magazine produced by Taylor Guitars just arrived in my mail box. Here’s a letter in the “Ask Bob [Taylor]” column (p.6) that just “ticked all my boxes”. I couldn’t resist posting it here. The Ask Bob column lists a selection of letters sent in by Taylor guitar owners which are then answered by Bob Taylor.

Bob Taylor

Here’s the letter:

I picked up a used [Grand Symphony] 426 with Tasmanian blackwood back, sides and top. After playing it a few weeks, it seemed to meld with my playing style (I got used to how to fingerpick it), and I’m one of those people who believes that good guitars will adjust themselves to a player’s sound. It sounds absolutely stunning with the kinds of blues I play. I think it sounds better than any all-koa, mahogany or walnut guitar I’ve heard. I’d bet you could find a pretty good market for this model with acoustic blues players looking for that really old-fashioned sound that can be elusive. Have you considered making this a regular model?

Jim Sabatke

And here’s the reply from Bob Taylor:

Actually, Jim, in some ways we prefer the sound quality of Tasmanian blackwood to koa. Both are acacia trees and are nearly identical, or as close as cousins can be to one another, but blackwood has a very nice sound. We have been considering using blackwood on a regular basis for many years, but the challenge is getting a regular supply of guitar-grade wood. We have spent considerable time and energy in the country, working and developing relationships. We want to obtain wood in the most ethical and environmentally sound manner, so we’ve backed away from the traditional logging supply in favor of more sustainable methods that benefit local people. Tasmania has so much going for it with the species available there, and the added plus is that it’s a well-developed country rather than a poverty-stricken country. This condition puts many wonderful rules in place, and we are now working on some wonderful possibilities for obtaining blackwood. Currently we have a great relationship with a man who gets blackwood in the most ideal way. You can expect to see at least limited runs of guitars with this wood for years to come. Someday it may also become a standard model, but it’s too soon to tell at this point.

Bob Taylor

I’ve been learning the guitar the last 4 years and like Mr Sabatke my inspiration are the old pre-war blues players; people like Skip James, Son House, Furry Lewis and Scrapper Blackwell. Just a man (or woman), their voice and an acoustic guitar. To me it’s the perfect combination. I would love an all-blackwood Taylor 426 like the one Mr Sabatke picked up (and featured in my December 2011 blog). The perfect country blues axe!

I think Bob Taylor’s reply contains many interesting points. Remember Bob Taylor is President of Taylor Guitars, one of the biggest guitar makers in the USA. So these comments should be of interest to many Tasmanians, especially Tasmanian farmers.

Bob Taylor’s response can be summarised as follows:

  1. We like Tasmanian blackwood a lot;
  2. We want to buy Tasmanian blackwood from private growers;
  3. We want more growers to help establish a regular supply;
  4. If we get a regular supply going then blackwood will become one of our standard timbers.

This is a clear signal of support for Tasmanian farmers to sit up and take notice.

Do Tasmanian farmers want to grow quality sustainable blackwood timber to supply Taylor Guitars?

Do Tasmanian farmers want to use their existing blackwood resource to build a sustainable supply for Bob Taylor right now?

There is a significant existing blackwood resource on private land in Tasmania that has the potential to supply the guitar industry. All we need to do is work together on this. This is a long term project. Utilise the existing resource and grow more blackwood.

Taylor’s “man” in Tasmania is Robert MacMillan of Tasmanian Tonewoods.

”Someday it may also become a standard model, but it’s too soon to tell at this point.”

I don’t think it’s too soon at all. I believe there is enough existing private “guitar-grade” blackwood on Tasmanian farms right now to make Bob Taylor’s wish a reality. With improved management and new plantations we can build this opportunity further.

So how can we make this opportunity happen?


To date Bob Taylor has been pretty quiet about his support for blackwood. No doubt running a major company keeps him busy. No doubt he’s also cautious about wading into the war zone that is the forest industry in Tasmania.

But the war zone shows no sign of disappearing anytime soon, so if Bob Taylor wants to get his wish then wade in he must. A visit to Tasmania with some discussion, promotion and media coverage will go a long way to getting this opportunity started. The local media could show more interest as well, and not just peddle the old forest war clichés.

Quality, Price and Supply

Travelling around Tasmania picking up small volumes of blackwood from dozens if not hundreds of farms will be a challenging business. Keeping costs low so that everyone gets their fair share of the rewards will be important. Having the right equipment for the business will be essential. Maintaining and building strong long-term relationships and trust will be critical.

Establishing clear simple pricing structures and clear simple sales contracts will be vital. I hear many stories of farmers who have very optimistic expectations whenever someone enquires about buying their blackwood. Certainly high quality figured blackwood is worth good money, but plain grain blackwood is another matter. Often the quality of the timber isn’t known until the tree is “on the ground”. Given the general lack of experience in the timber market and poor market transparency it may take some time before farmers become familiar with the blackwood timber market. And it does take time to build trust and good relationships.

Harvesting guitar-grade blackwood from Tasmanian farms will also generate volumes of blackwood not suitable for guitars but suitable for other uses. Markets will need to be found for this timber.

Hopefully all of this extra activity will encourage Tasmanian farmers to want to learn to grow commercial blackwood and help build a growers cooperative. That’s my wish!

So if you are a Tasmanian farmer/landowner and want to be a part of Bob Taylor’s wish then please contact me or Robert MacMillan.

Thanks to Bob Taylor for his continuing support and belief in Tasmanian blackwood. Congratulations on the 40th anniversary of the Taylor Guitar company. And please come to Tasmania and promote you dream.

Deloraine Stringfest Final Program

The final program for this weekends Deloraine Stringfest is available here:

Stringfest Program 2014 p1

Bigger than Ben Hur!!!

See you there!


21, 22, 23 March 2014

This will be a great event!

I’ll be there to talk about how we can turn blackwood into an internationally recognised and appreciated tonewood with a Blackwood Growers Cooperative.

Put this weekend in your diary now.

See you there!

Luthiers, musicians, collectors and lovers of fine instruments and great music will gather at the inaugural Deloraine StringFest Tasmania in March 2014.

Deloraine is the home of the annual Rotary Tasmanian Craft Fair in November and is recognised as a centre for the arts with many fine crafts-people and artisans living in and around the Meander Valley.

Deloraine StringFest Tasmania (StringFest) is a celebration of stringed instruments, especially those made in Tasmania or made with Tasmanian woods such as blackwood, huon pine, sassafras and macrocarpa.  Tasmania has many fine artisans who create guitars, ukuleles, violins, harps, banjos, lutes and other fine instruments. Tasmanian woods are used Australia-wide and are keenly sought by instrument makers internationally.  Australian instruments by both large manufacturers and artisans have achieved international fame, and this is an opportunity for musicians, luthiers and enthusiasts alike to gather, display, sell and discuss their craft and love of instruments.

StringFest will bring together Instrument makers, tone-wood suppliers [AND GROWERS], musicians, groups and lovers of these fine instruments for displays, jam sessions, busking, concerts and workshops.

Musicians and makers attending StringFest will hold and attend workshops on playing and making instruments. All types of string music and instrumentation will be represented played by professional and amateur musicians from all over Australia.

StringFest Aims:

  • To present a festival of stringed instruments, showcasing Tasmanian and Australian luthiers, Tasmanian tone-woods and instruments;
  • To recognise Tasmanian instrumentalists and provide a social gathering for musicians, both professional and amateur;
  • To highlight the craft of luthiers and the pre-eminence of Tasmanian timbers used world-wide to create quality crafted stringed instruments; and
  • To provide ongoing recognition of Deloraine as a centre for craft and arts excellence.

Event Management

StringFest is a non-profit community event auspiced by Arts Deloraine, a non-profit community arts organisation, with any profits being directed back into the community for future events.

StringFest Events

Over the three days of StringFest there will be a multiplicity of events, some organised by the Management Committee and others hosted by community groups and business houses.

Friday, Saturday and Sunday – Instrument EXPO   Sports Complex, Little Theatre

Displays by luthiers of Stringed Instruments, displays of collectors instruments, Displays of Tone-woods used in instrument making.  Refreshments will available at the venue. ($5 admission). (Once only charge)

Major customer interest in the Blackwood Growers Cooperative!


I have established direct communication with one of the major US guitar makers who have recently visited Tasmania and initiated a commercial relationship with a supplier. The company wishes to remain anonymous for the time being. However they have been at the forefront of the sustainable tonewoods movement over the past 10+ years, having established commercial relationships with sustainable tonewood ventures in a number of countries. Here are some extracts from their emails:

“You seem to have a very well laid out [blackwood grower cooperative] plan, one we may discuss publicly supporting in the future. At this point we aren’t ready to do that, since we have yet to really do business on a long term (or short term) basis in Tasmania.”

“I will probably be taking a trip to Tasmania in the next 5 months and would like to meet with you at that time, we can see how we stand and how to move forward.”

While the local forest industry remains deeply divided and political, we have an important commercial opportunity in the making.

If we can get 2, 3 or even 4 major international guitar manufacturers buying farm-grown Tasmanian blackwood it might generate enough business to at least partly fund a cooperative, and certainly create plenty of market profile and momentum.

For the coop to be fully self-funding however there needs to be enough blackwood volume/value leaving farm gates to generate sufficient harvest levy. We don’t have any information about the existing private blackwood resource in terms of commercial volume/value/sustainable yield, but I doubt the resource is enough to fully fund a coop. Can the commercial potential of this existing resource be improved and realised? Absolutely! Can this resource be better managed to improve its future value? Absolutely! But we also need to plant more blackwood to create a new resource that will provide more volume/value out the farm gates of the future. Plantation blackwood will provide the necessary volume and value to help fully fund the coop. The tonewood market is the catalyst that will allow this process to begin.

The tonewood market is a premium market that can utilise short logs that are common in the existing unmanaged farm blackwood resource. Because it is a high-value market more of this low-volume, widely-dispersed resource can be profitably accessed. With enough support more information can be provided to landowners about their blackwood resource in terms of log specifications, prices, demand, etc. which should provide farmers with greater assurance that the forestry market is functioning more like a proper commercial market. Also many of these major guitar companies are looking for opportunities to promote their environmentally sustainable sources and practices once solid commercial relationships have been established. Tasmania could be next on the list as the home of premium quality sustainable tonewoods.

I’m looking forward to meeting with the guitar company representative when he is next in Tasmania and discussing how we might build the Blackwood Cooperative as a successful commercial business.