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Southland redwood timber for the Californian market

Mark Dean and Simon Rapley, New Zealand Tree Grower November 2009.

The New Zealand Redwood Company managers have been telling anyone who will listen that coast redwood is a fast growing and valuable softwood. With the exception of Ernslaw One Ltd, the larger forestry companies in general seem to be very conservative in their approach to species selection.

In recent years, Ernslaw One staff have been evaluating redwood as a potential species for future planting on selected sites. The Ernslaw One estate includes coast redwood stands that have shown impressive growth rates, so the most important question to answer is about the value of redwood.

Testing the market

Southland-based foresters identified a small stand of 73-year- old unpruned coast redwood growing at Tapanui and approached the New Zealand Redwood Company (NZRC) to provide help in sawing, drying and selling the timber into the Californian market. The purpose of sending the timber to California was to test the market for acceptability and establish the Californian price of the various grades produced.

Redwood occurs naturally only in a narrow band of coastal land in California and a small area of southern Oregon. Most of the redwood timber is used in these areas due to strong local demand and limited supply. The NZRC has previously sold New Zealand grown redwood into California and maintains links to the largest three redwood growers and processors in California.

Sawmill cutting instructions and Redwood Inspection Service (RIS) timber grade specifications were obtained, and it was arranged for one of the large redwood sawmills to buy the wood. The mill agreed to re-grade the timber to RIS standards and to buy it at fair market value. A report would be sent back giving general impressions of the wood, the volumes of each grade of timber and the value for each grade.

The assessment

Ernslaw One staff arranged for their Blue Mountain Lumber sawmill at Tapanui to saw the redwood to the cutting instructions provided by the Californian sawmill. The timber was air dried, kiln dried and planed. Blue Mountain Lumber graders did their best to interpret the grade standards and the timber, approximately 42 cubic metres, was shipped to the port of Oakland in California. The mill sent a truck to the port and transported the timber to their depot in northern California. On opening the containers and inspecting the wood, the mill managers reported the following −

  • The overall timber quality is very good, the size dimensions are right on target
  • The moisture content is excellent at around 10 per cent to 20 per cent
  • Surface texture is good
  • There are some problems with the lengths in that the wood is not cut to uniform two-foot multiples nor finished with the standard one-eighth inch eased edge. This will not prove to be problematic.
  • The square edge planing is very good but different from the Californian method. For use in decking, the timber would have needed re-planing to make it suitable. The nice, clean, square edges are perfect for finger-jointing.
  • The current market for all US timber is very poor, but given the large amount of clear timber between the knots, we believe there will be a higher sales average.

Sawmill managers were impressed with the wood quality, drying, and manufacturing and also mentioned that it was a good decision to ship in containers and future shipments must continue in containers to ensure minimisation of handling damage. They also said that the wood has a similar appearance as California redwood and the growth rings are comparable. There did seem to be more dead black knots but that may have been because all of the timber was shipped rather than being dropped out earlier in the manufacturing process.

They felt that the timber shipment will be a success and would want to do more business if possible.

Fair market value

As agreed, the sawmill allocated fair market values to each of the timber grades and calculated an average value for the consignment.

Californian sawmills also have some of their own grades which help to allocate redwood to its best uses and to capture any extra value. The average value was US$891 per thousand board feet or NZ$773 per sawn cubic metre. Given that prices had already begun to fall due to the recession in California, the returns are very good.

After deducting typical costs of shipping, transportation, drying, sawing and harvest, this equates to an average delivered log price of over $150 a cubic metre, and the trees were unpruned. The price for heartwood clear of knots is $3200.

Mark Dean is a Forestry Planner, Ernslaw One Ltd and Simon Rapley is General Manager for NZRC


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