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Eucalypt Pudding

Monday, May 06, 2019, Shem Kerr's blog

You have many contacts among the lumberjacks
To get you facts when someone attacks your imagination…
But something is happening here and you don't know what it is
Do you, Mr Jones?"
   Ballad of a Thin Man; - Bob Dylan

The trouble with specialty timbers is they're like Ostrich feathers the niche market can disappear before your eggs have hatched.

Back in the wood old days when I was alive we had a whole lot of products made of what would now be called specialty timbers:

Road-men with picks, shovels and wooden wheel barrows excavated the carriage-way. There were wooden  road paving blocks. Scows sailed up on the beach at high tide for the wooden trucks to come down at low tide and take the shingle cargo.

“Butter-box” buses were built from kahikatea, the same timber used for curd vats and factory butter-churns. Wooden phones as big as your head, were fixed to the wall, connected by wire slung on eucalypt poles to a wooden switchboard. Eventually the poles rotted off and the worms under-grounded the network. No NIR sensor, nor any other such tools that a farm forester takes for granted today.

I first came across the farm foresters while I was studying at Salignadale. They were very old men dressed in period costume driving vintage trucks heavily laden down by a single log hanging off the back. Around that time it began to be seen that there was a need to grow more trees, and fast.

A body of evidence was built up by the NZFFA & the Forest Service (later FRI) on the performance of the durability class 3 (D3) eucalypts: E botryoides and E saligna and their hybrids; as well as the D2 & D3 eucalypts E pilularis and the stringybarks. These were trialled. They were grown well on forestry sites, easily milled and built with  The pudding has been eaten: that's the proof. There continue to be growers with healthy E saligna crosses having minimal end splitting.

Cut to now, with proposed anthropogenic global warming; a perceived need for lots of trees growing fast; greater competition for higher classes of soils; disruptive technology, and social change. Are the plantation owners really backing a programme fit for a future of higher risk and tighter constraints?

What else is changing for specialty woods before your next crop is harvested? Environmentally benign in-ground timber treatments derived from forestry by-product; precisely-controlled post-avoiding horticultural robots; electronic fencing; tiny houses; eating out.

What about carbon neutral concrete; wireless electricity distribution; mushrooms or kombucha construction composites; nimble global competitors?

Perhaps add in the advertised effects of global warming. In addition to recognised harder droughts and significant warming, there's, greater climatic variability; stronger storms; salt winds driven further inland; more severe rain events; humidity extremes; higher erosion, wind-throw, etc.

Take in a groundswell of public and consumer distaste for environmental degradation; 

along with a greater competition for higher classes of soils by horticulture, lifestyle blocks; and urban sprawl may mean that available land close to a port is insufficient for the industry.

Keeping these points in mind, we may note that the plantation owners have allocated the bulk (60%) of eucalypt research funding to three ground durable species of relatively low productivity; nothing to the faster growing and sometimes better D3 species; and then 40% to the non-durable ones.

In the narrow scope of profitability: the research into non-durable species will be useful for areas that continue to be cold enough. But the ash group of eucalypts are becoming uncomfortable with the heat in the northern portion of this pot. Ground durable species from relatively non-variable climates should also be considered with a lot more caution.  There's been very good growth of some D1 eucalypt shelterbelts, but on horticultural soils only.

The most fit eucalypts to be the plantation owners’ “ideal forest tree” and also to meet the strategic objectives of their Science and Innovation Plan are some of the D2 to D3 stringybarks. The most applicable research is in the NZFFA/FRI (now SCION) stringybark programmes the backing for which has been left to a small number of unfashionable farm foresters. Jst as it was at Salignadale.

This may be the closest you've gotten to a market risk analysis. Mr Jones. 

[ further indepenent farm forestry blog posts can be found at  ] ð

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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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