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Too understood to merit a mention?

Saturday, December 01, 2018, John Purey-Cust Ponders

In my present abode I don’t see much of trees, but a few days ago I had a chance for a short walk under my beech plantings. Now over 20 years old and after a wet spring all was fresh and green, cool shade. I planted them with no particular purpose in mind except to see what would happen, and the result, aided by much help and advice and friendly fungae, is good.

What comes next? That is now up to a new owner who loves trees. We can’t bind the future, even when we grow radiata pine. Concepts of value and end uses change, rarely meeting the planned objective . Think if you can of the many uses for wood that now are plastic. Even past experience is no more than a hint.

I came back from that visit to find the November issues of the NZFFA’s Tree Grower and the NZIF’s Journal of Forestry. I was struck by the dominance of radiata, the Journal even going so far as to omit species names from most of its articles on the apparent assumption that radiata is too understood to merit a mention. The Tree Grower does better, with space devoted to the merits of Douglas fir but concludes by mentioning that a major Nelson believer has bowed to the ’economic pressure’ of radiata pine and no longer plants Douglas fir.

Is this wise, that we have virtually the whole economic future of production forestry dependent on one species? True, a dynamic and versatile species, a great success all over the Southern hemisphere, but what do we do if it gets a lurgy, as all, (not necessarily just monocultures) are liable to do. Do we just fold our tents and quietly fade away, or what?

For a start, I don’t believe we should just fade away. The verdict on Douglas fir is questionable – the same volume productivity as radiata, comparable wood qualities, and a better economic and environmental profile (three lots of establishment, silvicultural and harvest costs versus four for the same wood production).

How is such a risk calculated to show up in the economic analysis? Is it a national responsibility, for a professional body to recommend, or individuals to do as they chose? Clearly national responsibility leads the way, closely followed in order of size by the forestry companies, and least of all by farm foresters.

Farm foresters (‘Us’) traditionally have a shorter attention span focussed on the retirement fund and smaller plantings to feed it, whereas companies and the nation have the long term view.

We need to discuss.

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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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