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Douglas-fir Regional Processing Strategy: Douglas-fir Strategy

By Tony Desmond, December 2020.

Download SWP-T117 (pdf)

Executive summary

Wooden It Ltd has been asked by the Specialty Wood Products research initiative (SWP) to prepare a paper on the regional strategic processing options available to growers of Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii). The project supports SWP’s goal of “.... delivering higher value products, providing diversification, and mitigating the risks of growing a single species while supporting regional development.”

Douglas-fir (D-fir) is the second most commonly-grown exotic timber species in New Zealand and occupies around 5% of the land used in plantation forestry. For more than 60 years now, D-fir has been in common use in building projects in New Zealand. Its strength, stiffness, weight, and stability characteristics make it an ideal candidate for the light wooden framed building so popular in New Zealand dwellings.

Apart from a general desire to reduce the risk associated monoculture forestry, there is little evidence of a long-term national or regional strategic approach to the planting of D-fir and because of this its distribution, both geographically and temporally, appears to be rather haphazard. Four of the nine recognised forestry regions in the country currently contain 95% of the area planted in D-fir. The major growing regions are now situated in the bottom half of the South Island and the central region of the North Island and this makes a regional approach to processing strategy appropriate.

D-fir is eminently suited to structural building products with some specialty products such as wall panelling also marketable. While D-fir sawmill chips are used in pulp manufacture it is not a prized source of pulp wood, some of its physical characteristics make it difficult to cut in a rotary peeler so it is uncommon to see it in structural plywood or LVL, and difficulty machining it make it unpopular for products requiring a high finish. These factors combine to direct D-fir down a processing path that begins with sawmilling and for this reason this report focuses on sawmill products or engineered derivatives of them.

Structural sawmilling strategies alone did not appear as attractive options for new investment when D-fir products are marketed directly into niches occupied by radiata. However, market niches that suit D-fir’s strengths, and/or further processing of D-fir into engineered products can generate more value and support better returns to the grower

Forest management strategies that may assist or support processing investment include –

  • allowing harvest age to increase (up to 50 in some regions) to spread spikes in supply and provide longer-term and less erratic supply to those prepared to invest in processing capacity
  • co-processing with radiata in existing and/or new mills to help even the log supply - exporting excess logs to global markets
  • a combinations of these.


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