Post from Nick Ledgard on December 24, 2015 at 11:05PM
Not all doom and gloom for alternative species
Wednesday, December 23, 2015, John Fairweather's blog
The last issues of the North Canterbury branch newsletter covered some interesting issues associated with growing and harvesting alternative species. Two points stuck out to me. One was that there is a need for specialist small-block harvesting equipment. The other was that currently it appears that alternative species do not make a commercial case on financial and traditional timber grounds.
I agree that growing and harvesting alternative species is not as easy as one would like. I can attest in my own case that blackwoods on my site may not be as viable as radiata. However there are some considerations that, if valid, suggest that there is still scope for optimism about alternative species grown for traditional production goals.
First, there is clearly a need for small-block harvesting equipment. I know of some farmers with trees to harvest that are reluctant to get the professional loggers in because they do not want a large clear fell. Purchasing one’s own small-scale harvesting gear, such as a Fransgard winch which would allow them to minimise harvesting costs, is not a priority among all the other pastoral farming demands. We need contractors with the right gear to safely harvest small but usable volumes. I expect that there are farmers and other landowners with small woodlots who approach the traditional loggers, and no action is taken because the volume is too small to be economic for traditional gear – now typically 20 tonne diggers with harvesting heads etc. Another benefit of a contractor with technology appropriate for small volumes is that woodlots could be selectively harvested. This would give the grower income over a number of years. It would also better suit my scale of production where I need smaller volumes throughout the year.
Second, I am paying $70-90 per tonne for good quality eucalyptus or acacia logs, and these prices match radiata prices of similar quality, so the returns to growers are not all that bad. Admittedly, this is just for two species, and my total annual volume is low. However, the total volume needed may increase in the future, as I expect my small operation to expand. Others might also get into eucalypts or other alternative species, as the idea of actually using specialty wood gets more traction. The Specialty Wood Product Partnership research programme promises positive outcomes for eucalypts and other alternative species.
Increased demand for specialty woods will grow when their merits are better appreciated by architects, joiners and the general public. In fact, joiners tell me they would like to use real wood but customers are not aware of what is available and therefore do not ask for it. We need to address this fundamental lack of demand. Specialty wood people should be presenting their wares at home shows.
I hope my marketing efforts in future will go some way to generate increased demand for specialty woods.
As part of my marketing goals, I am planning a seminar next year to present to Christchurch architects and joiners recent post-graduate research on the economics of growing nitens, and the utility of nitens for furniture use. It is important to reach this audience in order to develop demand for using alternative species.
I can also report, at least for my customers, that there is an appreciation out there for real wood. It seems that people have an instinctive appreciation of wood and an awareness that they are lacking something by not having ready access to wood products. Generating demand may not be all that difficult.
Disclaimer: Personal views expressed in this blog are those of the writers and do not necessarily represent those of the NZ Farm Forestry Association.