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Farm Forestry Timbers - Local timber for local markets

Dean Satchell, New Zealand Tree Grower August 2012.

The NZFFA now has a new nationwide branch – Farm Forestry Timbers. This branch will act as a national industry body representing the interests of local specialty timber producers and anyone with an interest in specialty timbers. Funding from the Sustainable Farming Fund has helped us set up a web resource which will be the home of Farm Forestry Timbers. This resource includes extensive information about a range of timber species, a photographic showcase of each timber in use and an online market place.

Timber and the building code

As an industry group there are a number of areas in need of attention. At the top of the list is regaining some of the ground lost in recent years concerning construction timber. The building code rules are now set around treatment and strength classes for radiata pine and Douglas fir. This makes it very difficult to use alternative timbers and market share has been lost as a result.

We believe that natural durability should be acceptable, as should structural properties of a range of timber species. By having no historical representation on standards committees our alternative timbers have been left out. Our industry group will be lobbying for inclusion, and while there is much ground to reclaim and despite being a voluntary group, I am confident contributions and commitment from members will take us forward.

The web resource includes extracts from the various New Zealand standards which apply to timber construction with alternative timbers. The market needs to be aware of the rules and understand them, while industry needs to know them in order to solve the problems. This information is now available in the public arena about where and how we can use alternative timbers.

Stresses and durability

In a separate, but related NZFFA project, we are in the process of determining the characteristic stresses of a range of timber species. These include macrocarpa, lusitanica, Lawson cypress, redwood and eucalypts in order to comply with NZS 3603 Timber Structures standard. The strength properties are required to be tested in accordance with the rules set out in another standard, AS/NZS 4063. The University of Canterbury have been contracted to undertake testing and reporting the results from this work. This will enable structural engineers to design structures ‘by the rules’ with these timber species.

Next will come durability and how we can expect to meet the specific requirements of the building code. We hope to work with Future Forests Research and Scion to provide evidence on durability performance to the Department of Building and Housing for a range of species in different applications.

Producers and quality

Producers of specialty timber have been disparate in the past. As a result timber quality has been inconsistent. This, along with unreliable availability, has inhibited market development for minor timber species. We know there is demand for specialty timber and we know that solving quality problems is essential for market development.

Farm Forestry Timbers have set up grading rules which all members need to comply with when supplying timber through the web market place. The grade rules can be viewed on the website so that buyers can select timber grades to suit their requirements and are assured they will get what they expect.

Quality is influenced by production methods. Producers need to know how they should treat logs and timber to get the best resulting quality. Information resources are available on the site on sawmilling and drying so that producers can get it right. This also gives growers the tools to become producers and choose between selling logs, or contracting a sawmiller to cut their timber which they can dry and market themselves.

The marketplace

Solving the supply chain problems around minor timbers in New Zealand is not going to be easy. Our goal is to provide a consistent supply of locally grown, natural, sustainably grown quality timbers for the local market. As a group we can achieve this if the collective approach is supported by the individuals involved. The opportunity is to supply an existing demand which is currently being filled mainly with imported timbers. Market research indicates there is sympathy and interest in our local product. We just need to swing consumer opinion around into tangible demand and collectively promote the message to buy local.

A centralised market place and brand are the platforms on which we are collectively launching our products. The market place is the centre of our website. Anybody who has a service or product to offer relating to locally grown specialty timbers can join. By joining the group you can put listings into the market place.

The market place is available for anybody to browse and link up with the supplier or service they are looking for. Growers can market trees or logs, sawmillers can look fork logs, merchants can buy and sell timber, architects builders and engineers can offer their services. Everyone involved in that value chain can link up or simply offer their products or services to the world.

The future

I have been hearing rumblings of discontent right around the country from growers who took a punt on specialty timber species and now have mature trees with no market. It is time to develop that market, but everybody has to play their part. There is a level of risk, a chicken and egg scenario where a gamble first needs to be taken to increase the supply of timber so that those who want timber will not be disappointed if it is not available.

Those who believe in a market for local, quality timber, step forward and play your part in emerging a diverse forest industry in New Zealand. Join Farm Forestry Timbers via the website or your annual subscription form.

Dean Satchell is a member of the NZFFA Executive.


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