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Wood and species

Thursday, May 25, 2017, John Purey-Cust Ponders

I was encouraged to read in a recent Southland Times that living in a wooden house gives health benefits. The reporter’s name (Natalia Didovich) sounds Russian and Russians like wood, and the source of her information was a report put out by “The Planet Ark Environmental Foundation”. I must call up Mr Google and explore further.

I have, and found an Australian environmental group strongly in favour of wood, ‘responsibly produced’ (for which I read ‘plantations included’) and illustrated with attractive pictures of wood based architecture. Take a look – maybe I am biased, living in a Lockwood house.

Moving on. A month ago I joined a group going up to a field day on Berriedale, a property south of Waihola. It was a bright sunny day, a good audience well mixed by age and occupation, and open and welcoming hosts David and Helen Vollweiller, on a sheep property with trees and natural manuka in the gullies.

And there lies the first question. Someone referred to the trees as a good use for ‘unproductive land’. Force of pastoral habit speaking perhaps because by the well tended, healthy and vigorous appearance of the plantings (mostly radiata, with some macrocarpa, douglas fir and eucalypts) the gullies are very productive, though perhaps not for sheep.

Then ‘Markets’ arose when we were at a stand of Euc nitens. There the voice of the sawmill supply chain spoke – how to get a sufficient log supply for a good mill run of the unconventional and how do we find a buyer for the sawn product? The answer is simple – often we don’t.

Radiata and douglas fir are simple – an established chain of mills and markets, consultants and log buyers - but volume is still important and farm foresters are usually not so big. For other species something different is needed and I hark back to John Wardle’s Woodside. His radiata goes through established channels into an established market, log quality compensating for a small harvest yield, but his beech, for which there is no log market, he saws himself on a portable mill and finds his own market for the sawn timber. It is a lesson that I only appreciated quite recently, conveniently too late to do much about it, my androscoggin poplars being in mind. The sawmillers and the log marketers speak for the world they know, the present, now. That is not necessarily the world farm foresters live in, and we have to allow for that.

Economic woodlot size has been questioned too – but what is too small? The answer for radiata, providing there is quality (for which I read pruned and thinned) and good access, is ‘pretty small’. Again I hark back to Woodside – a sustained yield of radiata logs from 27.5 hectares – and there are other examples, in the latest (February) Tree Grower and in the Farm Forestry Members Newsletter no. 97 (also February).

The Tree Grower article (‘A harvest result to confound the experts’) describes the result of harvesting a one hectare block of 26 year old radiata pine – nett income $57,669, of which pruned logs (55.5% by volume) produced 78% of sale value. A nett annual stumpage of $2,218.

It seems that the owners have planted a hectare a year on each of their two farms and this was the oldest and first to be felled.

The Southland Farm Forestry Newsletter article (‘Good forest management decisions yield spectacular financial outcome’) describes the harvesting of two blocks (24 and 25 year old) of radiata totalling 8.6 hectares. The results work out at a nett stumpage per hectare of $61,430, or annually $2,507. It is mentioned that all the pruned logs went to local mills.

A good subject for a local field day – find a member who contemplates planting radiata and have an on-site discussion of the choices available – seedling types, silvicultural regimes, final crop objectives, and yes, etc.etc.

In both cases you can find more detail in the relevant publications, which all members of Farm Forestry will have. And logging machinery gets smaller too. See the tractor mounted winch used by Roger May (FebruaryTree Grower) and note his comments on sawing ‘unsaleable’ species

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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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