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Farm Forestry and transformation

Friday, March 25, 2022, Dean Satchell's blog

I'm watching from the sidelines as a last ditch effort unfolds to save the organisation in its current form. It's undeniably difficult to let go of something that satisfies a shrinking traditional membership base in favour of something new. But that is what's required to transform the organisation into a representative body for the small and medium forest grower. The wheels were set in motion a decade ago to represent that industry sector and its time to let go of the past and focus on the needs of existing levy payers and future levy payers.

Although a recipe for success in the past, traditional farm forestry isn't about the forest resource and generating revenue from forests as a productive land use, but more about improving the visual farm landscape using trees. Using trees for fodder, shelter and shade are now the domain of the agricultural sector, soil erosion is for regional councils and tree hugging is for eccentric environmentalists.

Our role is now to support the productive land user growing trees for income. To become an industry body requires a transformation. We currently squander our levy funding to prop up our traditional role of a farm social club, to provide the membership magazine and a head office to support the exclusive membership. This is not the role of an industry body. An industry body uses its levy funding to efficiently inform the whole industry on the important issues. The growers levy has provided us financial support to do that, but instead we've chosen to have a go at using levy funding to prop up our floundering exclusive membership club ahead of being a representative body for the forest grower community.

I have made no secret of the solution to this. But digesting that isn't easy while efforts remain focussed on how to retain the status quo. And if you're too long in the tooth to log into a website or open emails, then should you expect the organisation to continue to meet your needs? Growers that want their business venture to succeed exist in the new world of electronic communications. 

We don't need the Tree Grower magazine. We don't need a head office. We don't even need a membership subscription to transform. The growers levy support we receive is more than adequate to provide the services that all growers require. Growers no longer need to be part of an exclusive subscription-based association, that is old school. They want to know about local field trips and seminars, they want to know what's happening out there, but they don't want to pay for it. This isn't about being too tight-arsed to pay a membership levy, it's just modern society and the reality of the electronic world we now live in. We have the technology - our communications platform is fully integrated with our website. Our content management system is our virtual head office. There are now 2,500 non-member growers registered with us, that each receive our communications at no cost. Unfortunately, our content remains exclusive to the membership because we continue to be a subscription-based organisation based on one very expensive form of communication - the Tree Grower quarterly magazine.

I'm not talking about getting rid of the Tree Grower. I'm talking about publishing the articles online and getting rid of the paper publication. A Tree Grower article arriving in your email inbox once a week, archived and accessible on the website. Yep, no more exclusive $25 club magazines to gather dust in a pile somewhere. Try going back through your dusty pile of magazines to find an article and compare that with a simple search on the website. Did you even know that the last 15 years of Tree Grower articles are archived and searchable on our website? Have you tried reading one of these articles on your screen, or have you convinced yourself that you can only read something that's printed on paper? Can you dare to imagine a world where you go to our website for information using your smartphone? Can you imagine a world without your quarterly snail-mail paper magazine?

The global consensus has been to shift away from paper journals and into online publications. Articles are accessed on devices in spare time. I just ask that you dare to imagine a new paradigm, a world where articles arrive in your inbox every week or two at no cost, courtesy of the growers levy, articles like this that are rich in information that have no associated publication cost:

The small forest grower wants to know about species research, forest establishment, silviculture, harvesting, national and regional rules and log market information. Information relating specifically to production forestry and trees as a productive land use.

Then, as the industry body representing our sector, we also provide a regular newsletter that communicates hot issues and events:

I don't believe the levy board would hesitate funding this if it were available to all growers, not just the exclusive members club. Even the annual conference might receive funding if the focus were on forestry, and the organisations survival would be assured. 

That leaves branches. Branches are voluntary, independent groups that in the past required subscription revenue to print and post paper newsletters. Most of them now email their members, so do branches really still require a subscription levy to function? The few branches continuing to publish paper newsletters are stretching their volunteer base to the limit, only to delay the inevitable. Perhaps they just don't know how easy it is to publish and distribute branch newsletters via our web system? 

Administration of our membership is a significant cost to the organisation, second only to the Tree Grower. So do we need either of these? Nope, not to function as an industry body. 

My favourite quote "Paradigms fall slowly, from the weight of repeated failure". We risk losing it all by not transforming. We'll get swallowed up by the Forest Owners Association and nobody will be left to represent the smaller grower and our history will be erased. Not something the many volunteers who have put decades of effort into the organisation will want to see happen. 

2 posts.

Post from Jane & Nigel Russell-Bowen on March 31, 2022 at 10:55AM

Re Dean's piece on the organisation's structure and membership. Great to hear forward thinking. I will be very keen to hear others response. I think I can feel a touch of sadness like letting go of a friend's hand in farewell - how do we honour and express respect to those that are elderly and not tech savvy?


Post from Howard Moore on April 24, 2022 at 10:24AM

I can confirm that it's pretty easy to publish an electronic newsletter using the NZFFA website, as I've been doing that for over a year. Once you learn the process it's straightforward, but you need to stay in practice. If anyone wants to learn they will need authorisation from Dean to access the Admin pages, then I can show them how. 

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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