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Much can happen between planting and harvesting

Wink Sutton's Blog
Thursday, February 27, 2014

There can be 30 years or more between the decision to establish a plantation and its final harvest. Rarely understood or appreciated are the risks faced by the plantation owner. The plantation may be accidently burned down or suffer wind damage. An insect or pathogen can be introduced which might decrease growth and result in tree malformation or even tree death.

Especially as we now export most of our wood harvest, exchange rates are very important. We are at the mercy of much larger economies and much bigger governments – exchange rates can and do fluctuate. As a small nation we have almost no control over them.

Markets, such as the increasingly dominant export market, may change. Since 1995 Japan has gone from being our largest overseas log buyer to our third most important. China is now our most important market for logs. Our wood exports are increasingly dominated by logs rather than processed wood. The result is that although the plantation harvest has nearly doubled since the mid-1990s, the country’s export earnings after adjusting for inflation have grown at much slower rates than the harvest.

The premiums for quality can also change. None more so than the premiums for pruned radiata logs. In the 1990s there were confident predictions by myself and others that pruned logs would now be worth more than $200 a cubic metre which would be $300 or more adjusted for inflation. Pruned logs now realise less than $150 a cubic metre. As pruning costs money and also reduces tree growth, the price premium for pruned logs hardly justifies pruning with the result that fewer stands are being pruned.

There are also small premiums for unpruned log exports. Export pulp logs in the late 1990s earned about a third per cubic metre as much as unpruned larger logs – currently there is only a very small price premium. I doubt very much if there are any current premiums in overseas markets for older,denser and stiffer wood logs. Will the present price structure continue? Who knows?

Over the life of a rotation there may be 10 or more elections and there will be several changes of government. Financial incentives or disincentives along with taxation policy can and do change. There may also be unforeseen and unpredictable changes in regulations, such as the Emissions Trading Scheme and the Resource Management Act, and trade requirements. An example of the latter would be that all wood must come from certified forests and logs and timber must be free of harmful pathogens.

These are some of the risks faced by plantation owners over a rotation. More importantly they are risks that the plantation owner has almost no control over.

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Radiata pine not Pinus radiata

Wink Sutton's Blog
Friday, November 29, 2013

When I first joined forestry in the late fifties, radiata pine was regularly called either insignis pine or by its botanical name, Pinus insignis. It was not uncommon for the public to accept that radiata and insignis were two separate pine species. At the beginning of my career Douglas fir had the botanical name of Pseudosuga taxifolia. Later Douglas fir was renamed as Pseudosuga menziesii.

Our indigenous species are not free from botanical name changes. Matai used to be assigned the botanical name of Podocarpus spicatus, later it was reclassified as Prumnoptys taxifolia. Miro was once classified as Podocarpus ferrugineus but has now been reclassified as Prumnoptys ferruginea.

In theory common names might change while scientific botanical names would remain constant. As the examples above show the opposite is generally true. Although the botanical names for radiata, Douglas fir, miro and matai have changed, their common name has remained unchanged.

American foresters became so frustrated with changes in scientific names that all major tree species were assigned common names. These were meant to be names that would remain constant and independent of any change in the scientific or botanical name. For example Pinus radiata was given the common name of Monterey pine, Acer saccharum was given the common name of sugar maple.

Why do we not follow the American example and assign standard common names to our major tree species? I prefer that radiata be called radiata pine and not Pinus radiata − who knows when or if the tree species might be assigned a different scientific or botanic name. When writing the botanic name the convention is that it either be underlined or written in italics as Pinus radiata. The genus name should be begin with a capital, with the species in lower case.

Editor’s note –The subject of tree species names is continued in the article about cypress name changes on page 42 of this issue of Tree Grower .

One post

Post from Rowland Burdon on May 29, 2014 at 11:42AM

Wink Sutton’s note in your November 2013 issue on common versus botanical names has been brought to my attention. Unfortunately, common names for tree species are often far from standardised, except in closely defined contexts. Actually if we were to adopt his precept of following the American example closely, we would run with Monterey pine (which he has actually mentioned) for radiata. However, even in the US, there can be regional common names for widely distributed species.

Relying on common names can be downright treacherous where they vary regionally. A classic example is reputedly the extensive early planting of the notably useless Eucalyptus ovata in Whaka Forest and doubtless many other places in New Zealand.The story is that the Lands Department thought they were ordering seed of E. regnans, which was called swamp gum in one Australian state, but ordered from another state which used that common name for E. ovata.

One other, small point. For repeated mention, P. radiata is more compact typographically than radiata pine.

Botanical classifications and names can certainly be subject to revision, but that can be covered by widely accessible documents which cross-reference botanical and common names. Such a document has existed and been updated in the NZ Institute of Forestry Forestry Handbook in successive editions since 1977. It could be extended to flag the areas of recent revision and unresolved disputes.

Rowland Burdon, Emeritus Scientist, Genetics, Scion

Disclaimer: Personal views expressed in this blog are those of the writers and do not necessarily represent those of the NZ Farm Forestry Association.

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