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

Salvage Timber Markets and their Destructive Impact on the Forest Industry

If we had a real forest industry in Australia and properly functioning timber markets then salvage timber would be just another option in the marketplace. But neither of these conditions applies.

Australia does NOT have a real forest industry NOR does it have proper functioning timber markets.

So when I go to buy macrocarpa cypress timber for a project and pay a price that is ridiculously cheap I realise that, as a consumer, I am helping to destroy the forest industry that I am so passionate about.

The chart below shows the price list for green macrocarpa from the retailer I went to.

The chart shows that regardless what size timber you buy, you are paying the same very low price by volume.

This is salvage macrocarpa from old farm trees around Tasmania. The quality of the salvage timber is variable. But good quality macrocarpa is a premium timber.

Macrocarpa

Cypress is also an ideal farm forestry tree as New Zealand farmers are well aware. It is quick growing, easy to grow on a wide range of sites, and produces a premium timber.

https://www.nzffa.org.nz/farm-forestry-model/species/cypress/

But I know of only 4 farmers in Tasmania who are growing macrocarpa in small plantations.

This is despite the fact that the timber is in high demand.

So when sawmillers and log traders buy old farm trees and pay next-to-nothing for them, and timber retailers sell the timber for bargain prices, who gets the message that demand and prices are high? What farmers are going to invest in growing this premium timber when the marketplace fails as it clearly is?

If I had to pay the real (replacement) cost of growing this wood, plus a premium for the fact that I am buying a premium product, I would expect to pay MUCH MORE than $2,780 per cubic metre.

Never mind that the price list shows no price premium for large sizes as there should be.

If it was Tasmanian oak I’d be paying over $10,000 per cubic metre for my pieces of timber!!

This is a typical salvage timber price list.

The price list is designed to reflect the fact that no one is deliberately growing this wood in Tasmania.

In other words the price list is designed to prevent investment in tree growing.

Tasmania could have a thriving, valuable macrocarpa industry, but it chooses not too; as if Tasmania has a super abundance of commercial opportunities from which to choose.

Sawmillers and timber merchants traditionally take no responsibility for their own future. It is someone else’s job to encourage and support tree growers.

Would any of my New Zealand readers like to share their local price of macrocarpa/cypress timber?

Within Australia I would include public native forestry within this same “salvage” category since the market price for public native forest timbers does not reflect the cost of growing the wood.

It is the responsibility of the marketplace to support and encourage tree growing otherwise there will be no timber in the future.

How do we fix timber markets in Australia so they support commercial tree growing?

How do we stop the salvage timber market from undermining the forest industry?

When will Australia get a real forest industry?

Hydrowood Timber Price Update

The forest industry, including timber traders, are notoriously secretive about timber prices, including Hydrowood.

So I stumbled upon some updated prices for Tasmania’s premium timbers from Hydrowood.

https://www.hydrowood.com.au/

They are an eye opener to say the least.

I did a review of Hydrowood blackwood prices back in 2016:

https://blackwoodgrowers.com.au/2016/08/03/hydrowood-blackwood-prices-at-uptons/

There is little information on the updated prices, but what they do show is worth a story.

Hydro2020

Prices for select blackwood and myrtle have increased by 28% over the last 4 years to $6,160 per cubic metre, whilst prices for plain sassafras have increased by 35%!

Hydrowood select blackwood and Myrtle is still significantly cheaper than Tasmanian oak at Bunnings Hardware. Premium timbers at heavily discounted prices!

But then we get to the gold!

Prices for Huon pine and fiddleback blackwood have increased by 158% to a massive $26,700 per cubic metre.

The Hydrowood price list in 2016 showed a flat uniform price-by-volume regardless of timber size. There are indications that Hydrowood has moved away from this to better reflect cost and recovery.

So what does this mean for current and prospective timber growers?

It means giving away public assets to create welfare jobs while undermining the forest industry is not a good strategy.

It means selling Tasmania’s premium timbers at heavily discounted prices sends the wrong message to the community and the marketplace.

Does the forest industry want a future? Apparently not!!

Dysfunctional timber markets is just one of the many issues that the new Tasmanian Forest Products Association has to deal with.

In the mean time we can definitely grow premium plain-grain select blackwood in plantations, in the hope that one day all this great bloody mess will be sorted out!

And this great quote from a former Director of Forestry Tasmania:

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.

Do I need say anymore?

The Very Last Bunnings Tasmanian Oak Price List

Bunnings

It has been two years since I last updated the Bunnings timber price list.

https://blackwoodgrowers.com.au/2018/05/12/bunnings-timber-price-list-update/

Since then Bunnings, Australia’s largest hardware chain, has taken an increasing socially responsible position regarding its product sourcing.

All of Bunnings Tasmanian oak comes from the logging of public native forest, which has been the focus of bitter community conflict in Tasmania over many decades, and cost the Tasmanian community billions of dollars:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/mar/29/tasmanian-forest-agreement-delivers-13bn-losses-in-giant-on-taxpayers

With politicians and the forest industry unable to resolve the decades-long forestry wars in Australia, Bunnings has decided to take matters into its own hands. From 1st January 2021 they will no longer sell public native forest timber that does not have FSC Certification.

https://sustainability.wesfarmers.com.au/our-principles/sourcing/suppliers/

As there is no chance of certification happening between now and the end of the year this is the very last Bunnings Tasmanian Oak Timber price list.

https://www.bunnings.com.au/our-range/building-hardware/timber/dressed-timber/hardwood

The chart below shows the changes in price over the last 5 years. Large price increases in 2016 have been followed by minor price increases since then. The larger range of bigger sizes in 2020 shows Tasmanian oak prices breaking the $10,000 per cubic metre barrier!

None of these prices make for profitable public native forest harvesting, since 80% of the volume harvested is sold as low value woodchips. Never mind that no Government forest agency in Australia is run on a commercial basis. It is and always has been Welfare Forestry.

BunningsTA2020

Bunnings is making the correct decision.

It’s time to end destructive, wasteful welfare forestry in Australia, and build a real, commercial forest industry.

So get your Tasmanian oak while you still can!

Tasmanian Forest Products Association – a new beginning?

Hayes

It seems many people are hoping that the new Tasmanian Forest Products Association (TFPA) will offer the forest industry a chance for a new beginning. I have to say after 40 years in the industry that seems unlikely.

But never mind! As someone famous once said “There is always hope!”

Here are a few of my thoughts about what the TFPA is facing and what the challenges are (in no particular order):

  • The biggest issue facing the REAL forest industry is the WELFARE forest industry – everyone who works or depends upon public native forest wood. Public native forestry generates bad media like there is no tomorrow. It starves the real forest industry of oxygen!

It’s not as if the real forest industry has been working hard to create positive media, but they don’t stand a chance whilst the public and marketplace perception is dominated by WELFARE forestry.

Public native forestry is the stinking albatross around the industry’s neck!

  • The TFPA needs to think differently, speak differently and project a completely new message to the community. Speak and behave like you mean “business”. Whatever you do, do not keep repeating the tired boring messages of the last 50 years!!

You need to get the farming and broader community onboard.

The community is not your enemy!

This means keeping a visible and significant distance from politicians. In Tasmania that will be difficult! Tasmanian politicians are like leeches. They climb up our legs and bleed us.

If the community sees you playing politics, you are dead!

  • Cutting down trees, sawing up or chipping logs has always been the easiest part of the forest industry. The hardest part is getting people to plant, grow and manage trees for future wood production! That means the focus of the industry must be on PROFITABLE TREE GROWING! And it must be a planned, collective approach to expand and grow the industry. Individual businesses cannot do this.
  • The forest industry in New Zealand is one of the most successful in the world. We can learn much from them.
  • Competition, level playing fields and market transparency are fundamental to the future of the industry! Numerous reports have been saying this for decades! JUST DO IT!!!
  • If you adopt any of the above ideas you will come under intense pressure from your mainland colleagues who regard all of these ideas as anathema. Nevermind! Stay strong! Someone has to break the cycle of failure that has cursed our industry.

All of the above makes for a very long hard road ahead for the TFPA.

But the only alternative is extinction.

We are in the fight of our lives.

The Cat Herd

CatHerd

The other day Forico CEO Bryan Hayes described the Tasmanian forest industry as a Herd of Cats. I would add very FERAL cats!!

And just the other day Private Forests Tasmania released the first ever Tasmanian Forest Industry Directory.

This is your guide to THE CAT HERD!!

https://www.pft.tas.gov.au/home/home_articles/directory_of_tasmanian_forestry_services_2020

I should say that it is a great leap forward for the forest industry. I am astonished it has taken so long to produce such a directory.

At least everyone now knows who the cats are.

Very few of these cats are cooperating to build and grow the forest industry.

None of them have a plan for the future.

That will be the job of the new Tasmanian Forest Products Association; to sort out this herd of disparate feral cats. Some will need to be euthanased! Hopefully the better ones can be tamed and brought into line.

Go to the PFT website and checkout the new directory.

Mind you don’t get scratched!

PS. I should say that not all of the Cat Herd is in the new directory, because the Herd definitely includes wood traders and retailers, manufacturers and craftspeople, builders, cabinetmakers, luthiers, etc. It even includes us all as consumers. 

So if we want a new beginning for the forest industry then we all need to change our thinking and behaviour.

Cheers!

Tasmanian Forest Products Association

Hayes

Bryan Hayes, Forico CEO

The forest industry remains quite for months and then BANG! News stories everywhere!!

This article appeared in the media the other day:

https://www.theadvocate.com.au/story/6767207/new-forestry-body-to-represent-industry-plagued-by-conflict-and-old-issues/?fbclid=IwAR1nZ_BpPTnxqz7EalGl-006syfKk1J3EQ-g6OzAG8ebcwg6km0tvL26n-g

The article formally announced the death of the Forest Industries Association of Tasmanian (FIAT) and the formation of yet another forest industry representative body, the Tasmanian Forest Products Association (TFPA). Tasmania is now back to having two forest industry representative bodies, the other being the taxpayer-funded Tasmanian Forest and Forest Products Network (TFFPN).

https://www.tffpn.com.au/

The TFPA as yet has no website. Hopefully soon!

I’m not sure where the TFGA sits in all this confusion:

https://tfga.com.au/farming-enterprises/forestry

Do they represent forest growers? Its hard to understand!

If Tasmanians are confused this is perfectly understandable. The forest industry in Tasmania remains deeply conflicted and divided.

The main theme of the article is to give Tasmanians very rare insight into the history of the forest industry; the truth being that for the past 20-30 years the forest industry has been very deeply divided!!

Driven by ego, power and greed; and as the article says “doing things the same way over and over is not a good strategy”. Who would guess?

Tasmanians have never had this insight into the inner workings and conflict within the forest industry. This is indeed a rare moment in Tasmanian history.

Few people in Tasmania were aware of this. Most Tasmanians thought the issue was “The Greenies”, when in fact the story was more complex.

“We want to depoliticise the conversation, we want to speak with an apolitical voice … take in the balance of social, economic and environmental concerns.”

Mr Hayes said the task ahead was enormous, particularly taking into account years of highly political activity within the industry and with professional protesters.

“There’s that old saying, herding cats …” he joked.

“But I hope it is able to act like a glue to bind the industry together.

“It’s going to be a long road.”

A long HARD road ahead!! Has anyone in the Tasmanian forest industry spoken with such candour before?

Not in my 40 year career as a forester!

Never mind!

The Tasmanian forest industry remains deeply conflicted and divided – between the taxpayer-sucking forest-destroying welfare forestry people, and those who believe that growing wood is a commercial activity.

My limited dealings with Mr Hayes have been very positive. Can he bring the peace and resolve to this long bitter divisive destructive period in Tasmanias history?

Time will tell.

Good luck Bryan herding those Feral Welfare Cats !!!

PS. Note to Bryan: You know I’m going to give you guys a hard time but you wouldn’t expect otherwise would you??

National Forest Strategy for Australia 1986

A trip down memory lane (another dead end street!)

NFSA1986

In purging my bookshelves recently I came across this publication. As I understand it this was the very first National Forest Industry Strategy/Plan for Australia.

It was 1986 and the forestry wars were well underway in many parts of the country. They still are!!!

It was 1986 and the forest industry was dominated by State Governments who ran the industry as a rural welfare program. They still do!! The privatisation of Government softwood plantations was still a few years away.

It was 1986 and the Hawke/Keating Government had been in Canberra for 3 years with an enormous reform agenda that would ultimately lead to the sale of Government plantations and the corporatisation of State Government businesses including forest agencies.

Significant change was coming to the forest industry, but from reading this strategy you wouldn’t know it.

The 1986 NFSA was a simple document running to a mere 17 pages (10 pages if Appendices are excluded).

The Strategy contains almost no background or supporting information, but despite this absence 34 recommendations are crammed into its few short pages.

There is no budget. There are no deadlines. There are no measureable, objective performance criteria. No one is held accountable or responsible.

There is a recommendation to review the Strategy every 5 years! That never happened despite the fact that the Hawke/Keating Government would be in power for another 10 years!

The Governments own reform agenda made much of the Strategy redundant.

Thirty four years have passed since this Strategy appeared. Much has changed in the forest industry in that time, and yet many things remain the same.

Dozens of other forest industry plans, strategies and reports have been written in the intervening 34 years. Most of them remain on library shelves collecting dust just like the 1986 Strategy.

The 1986 Forest Industry Strategy really did set the standard for forest industry dusty, dead end streets.

The forest industry in Australia remains in limbo land; unable to decide whether it is welfare or commercial.

My copy of this important historical document shall be returned to the bookshelf to collect dust for a few more decades.

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?