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About Tenco
Tenco is one of New Zealand’s largest exporters of forest products. We have built to this position since 1991 when the company was set up to export lumber to growing Asian export markets.  Experience and reputation count; from small beginnings Tenco has become the largest independent exporter of New Zealand lumber and New Zealand’s 4th largest log exporter.  Tenco has a regular shipping program of their own log vessels and in combination with these and other ships currently calls  at 7 New Zealand ports (5 North Island and 2 South Island).
Tenco buys standing forests.  Tenco currently has a number of forests which they purchased at harvestable age to log over a number of years for export and domestic markets.  Tenco also regularly buys smaller tracts of forest to harvest immediately or immature forests to hold until harvest time.  Tenco is interested in broadening  the  base of owners from whom it purchases forests and stands of trees.  A deal with Tenco is a certain transaction.  The owner and Tenco will agree on a value of the tree crop and then Tenco will pay this amount to the owner either in a lump sum amount or on rate per volume unit out-turn from the forest depending on the nature of the tree crop.
Tenco knows there are a lot of farmers who have trees that are close or ready to harvest and will be asking themselves how they should proceed with the sale of their trees.  For some farmers the kind of certain transaction with money in the bank could well be appealing. Tenco is actively interested in buying harvestable forests or trees from areas including all the North Island (except the Gisborne and East Coast districts) and Nelson & Marlborough in the South Island .
If you own a forest in this area (16 years and older) and are ready to enter into this kind of agreement Tenco is interested to develop something with you.
Please contact: 
Work: +64 7 357 5356  Mobile:  +64 21 921 595

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Recent blogs:

Growing Trees in Hadley Cells – or Not

Shem Kerr's blog
Saturday, October 05, 2019

“It's always the same
I'm running towards nothing
Again and again and again and again”

from A Forest by Robert James Smith / Simon Gallup / Matthieu A. Hartley / Laurence Andrew Tolhurst of The Cure


Had a pack of Hadley cells dropped off up the track. Unwrapped them, and, Wow! What trees would be best to grow in these, and how? So, I read the information sheet [1]  Then went over the back of the section to plant some hickories: -the ones hockey sticks [2]  are made of - and mull over the ins outs hows whys and whens of Hadley cells, [3]  - which were quite a bit different from the slit side cells I'd been used to. When I got the hickories planted I decided it would be a good idea to plant some pecans I'd been offered. Pecan is a warm climate version of hickory and might make hockey sticks too [4]  and they're all nuts.[5].  Well, the spadework was tough going as it was pretty much new ground I was breaking down the back. It wasn't something I'd seen the local forestry industry take on. To do this you need to think outside the box.[6] Like Jenni, when I told her about Richard Bellman being lost in a forest, [7]  she said he should've just climbed a tree to get out.


(i) I want to grow some trees that would with minimum risk quickly and profitably produce hard naturally ground durable timber in and for uncertain climate change.

(ii) Now I had some Hadley cells at hand, I thought it might be worth seeing which species would be the most market-competitive grown in those.

(iii) I want to satisfy my curiosity about the market competitiveness of durability class 3 or 4 (D3 or D4) hardwood timber environmentally benignly ground retention treated with, say, refined bark products.

Method amidst the madness

Before even picking up a planting spade, a wise farm forester asks, Is the species worth growing? And, What are the risks?

Instead of deciding which is the most likely climate scenario, maybe my best choice would be to accommodate uncertainty and plant species that can handle just about everything you can throw at them: thrive with slightly warmer conditions in high climatic variability: drought, high humidity, intense rain events, wind, frost, heatwave, a lack of soil nutrients, or a more acid and unstable environment due to geo-engineering of the climate; resist bugs; and produce durable timber early in case of landslip, wind-throw, economics, or more extreme climate.

I took a hard long look at what others were growing and researching; and I did a literature search.

I also approached the subject knowing that naturally ground-durable timber had a unique market niche: a hole in the ground. While I could dig the hole now, the market was only going to exist after harvest and should last for at least 20 to 50 years into a time when the hole could be in a warmer climate and open to more severe attack by wood decay organisms. Another problem is that naturally ground durable timbers have variability in decay resistance; some species are less variable than others. Also, in a warmer (or colder) climate there might be market competition from faster growing, less durable species for use not in ground contact; or environmentally benignly ground-retention treated with something along the lines of refined bark products that would be available by harvest date.

I included options for the science deniers.

I selected the three species from the Specialty Wood Partnership [SWP] durable Eucalypt programme [8] ( E bosistoana; E globoidea; and E quadrangulata); three of the closest to ground durable from the informal Eucalypt Action Group's [EAG] “Stringybark” programme [9]  ( E sphaerocarpa; E acmenoides; and E microcorys); also a couple of others ; and I laid them on my technical decision-making table. I have included Cookson's [10]  ground durability data from Melbourne and Sydney as they both historically had similar rainfall and no termites, but different temperatures. The durability ratings are from AS 5604. Site preferences are from sources noted in the discussion.

                  Technical Decision-Making Table


Durability Class

Melbourne mar 920 mm

Sydney mar 950 mm

Innisfail mar 3500 mm

Min air temp establishment for amateurs

Site requirements for good growth

E bosistoana


>33.4 yrs

21.9 yrs

8.5 yrs


Fertile moist mod sheltered

E globoidea






P radiata type of sites

E quadrangulata






Moist clay very sheltered

E acmenoides


>33.4 yrs

27.6 yrs

21.9 yrs



E microcorys



32.6 yrs

23.9 yrs


Fertile moist mod sheltered

E sphaerocarpa






P radiata type of sites

E. paniculata







E laevopinea






P radiata type of sites

E punctata






Poor soil specialist

Robinia pseudoacacia






Fertile moist soil with shelter

Zelkova serrata (D2)       -25ºC Fertile moist soil with shelter


I also made a project governance table to sit at. On it I put the factors and the special considerations that govern whether a species is likely to have market competitiveness under climate change.


                   Project Governance Table 

Governing factors

Special considerations

Market competitive regimes/species; & risk

Global warming

High climatic variability

Short rotation Stringybarks (D1 to D3) in north

Ash group in south

Status quo

The usual issues

Stringybarks (D1 to D3) & Ash group

Regional cooling

Uncertainty & high climatic variability

Ash group & D3 Stringybarks

Average forestry soils

Disadvantages, species that need high nutrient status

Stringybarks in north;

Ash group in south

Fertile moist soils

Land use competition with food crops

Timberbelts of pecans, walnuts,

honey locust

Slow growing species

Climate risk

As timber-belts on relatively sheltered fertile

soil with reasonable separation from food crop

Close to urban centres

Competition for food & housing

As above: keep distance from buildings

Myrtle rust

Young trees and coppice most at risk

Lower risk- E acmenoides 73% healthy

E microcorys 70%

E globoidea 40% - Higher risk


Firebrands onto neighbours


Lower risk: Stringybarks, Ironbarks;

E microcorys .

Gums; Ashes- higher risk


Loose & airy fire bed of durable high energy twigs

Lower risk- short rotations;

- Higher risk- Long rotation-

permanent sinks &

Derelict stands



Lower risk E. sphaerocarpa;

higher risk E. quadrangulata.

Ice age

Seriously cold

Robinia; Zelkova; Populus; Salix; Betula



* [Includes Enhanced Cargo Cult Science [11] complete with SHOUTS LOUDER Tree Breeding Programme!!! [12]]

Concerning the forest industry's understanding of the importance of climate change: I found no reference to climate change in Morgenroth, et al [13] on species-to-site matching ; not in Salekin et al [14]  nor in Howe et al [15] in the 2017 SWP expert review  [grab this one before it disappears from view]; neither in the NZDFI Site-Species Matching Research Plan [16]

Poole et al [17] on the Potential for Growing and Processing Durable Eucalypts in New Zealand, -  with no reference to climate change,- made inferences to the the lack of climate suitability: “Some species such as Corymbia maculata, E.pilularis and E.microcorys are intolerant to frosts, particularly in the early years of establishment, until crown closure is achieved and the site microclimate is moderated. It could be that any species with natural habitat confined to north of Sydney will have a very limited range of potential plantation sites in New Zealand, which makes E.microcorys a problematic species.” I have sown E. microcorys seed in October; planted out in December; got canopy closure amongst a nurse crop before the first frost; grown and harvested it in an area that yearly experienced occasional -4o C air temperature. With skill, most stringybarks and allied species will perform well down to -4C: E. globoidea E. laevopinea & E. youmanii colder.

The New Zealand Dryland Forest Initiative Regional Strategic Plan Consultation document [18]  made reference to more severe drought using IPCC 5th assessment scenarios. “Climate change will bring hotter and drier conditions in the east of the country, with more frequent, and more severe, droughts(e.g. see (Niwa) [19] “NZ’s east coast faces increasing drought and high intensity storms due to climate change.” from Notes for visit to NZDFI trial at Rick Alexander’s property [20]  as well as “Species are adpted (sic) to climate change and trees can live for hundreds of years.” from NZDFI Regional Srategy 2019 [21]

Yes, Eucalypts are drought tolerant, but that doesn't mean they're profitable. They handle drought by shutting down least essential functions such as growing wood; so they can sit there doing nothing for hundreds of years: they can also be eaten burnt or blown over during that time.

The NZDFI  breeding research plan [22]   is “concentrating efforts and resources on breeding a few promising species that are drought tolerant and produce very durable heartwood in cool climates.” Enough said. I can put the SWP species as potential candidates for the regional cooling scenario.

It wasn't till I got to Piers Maclaren's unpublished and confidential 2004 critical review on realistic alternatives to radiata pine in New Zealand (available over there , which I'm not allowed to cite as a literature reference),- that I got to something approaching a risk assessment. Despite having been an author on the IPCC working group Piers doesn't mention climate change.

Ngugi et al [23]put together data which has serious economic implications for a dryland forestry initiative competing against plantations in moister climates.

Growing trees on silt or sand with rhizosphere access to a shallow aquifer isn't growing trees in dryland conditions. Hocking [24]  notes that E bosistoana doesn't do as well up on the dunes as it does on the moist sand below (on the area the cows have frequented). Yanjie Li et al [25] indicate similar good growth on alluvial soils with access to water.

Watt et al [26]  model forest productivity. One scenario has a 10% decrease in productivity for Pinus radiata in the north and at low elevations.

As noted by Satchell [27], [28] some class D2 and D3 durable Eucalypts already grow almost as fast as pine in the north, under climate change they may gain a competitive advantage over a wider range of sites. This might have implications for research allocations.

An increase in severe drought would be a stress factor for trees; and leave them more likely to be open to attack by defoliating insects than they might be otherwise. Lin [29] quantified the loss of productivity due to defoliation on E. bosistoana.

Gea and Shelbourne [30] note: “There is growing circumstantial evidence that the stringybarks, ... contain several species which are well adapted and have excellent sawing and solid wood properties, including natural durability.”

Mcneil comments in Satchell [31]  “Of the Eucs I grow the worst pest damage is on tereticornis, followed (more or less in order) by grandis, bosistoana, quadrangulata, saligna (all symphyomyrtus). Cladocalyx is disappointing, much more damage than I expected. E. cornuta is about the only symphyomyrtus that is more or less untouched. Ash group, stringys and microcorys are almost untouched.

Defoliation by insects shouldn't be a problem for Symphyomyrtus species provided that there is good species-to-site matching. The issue is that Symphyomyrtus will be mis-matched to sites because most NZ forestry sites are now or will in future be not stress-free or otherwise suitable for the ground durable Symphyomyrt species chosen by the SWP.

Lin et al 2016 [32] observed one generation of Paropsis charybdis in South Island plantations; and noted that two generations are often observed in the North Island. No connection yet to implication of a warmer climate or the possibility of three or more generations.

The DFI approach to tackling this issue is well summarised by Murray & Lin on page 46 of DURABLE EUCALYPTS ON DRYLANDS: PROTECTING AND ENHANCING VALUE Clemens M. Altaner, Tara J. Murray and Justin Morgenroth (Eds) WORKSHOP PROCEEDINGS 2017 [33] (download this gem before it gets edited) What I got out of it was the message that breeding selection for resistance to defoliation by insects could allow symphyomyrts to out-produce those from the subgenus eucalyptus. This conclusion is supported by Stone et al's [34] experiment on the first 3 years' growth of 19 out of 470 symphyomyrt species and 16 out of 108 species from the subgenus eucalyptus. Murray & Lin also point to the apparent shortcomings of the subgenus eucalyptus regarding pathogens; referring to Potts et al [35] laboratory experiment on 30 Tasmanian species [“Although substantial variation in eucalypt susceptibility to myrtle rust has been reported, screening of the 30 native Tasmanian species indicates subgenus Symphyomyrtus may be more susceptible than subgenus Eucalyptus (Potts et al., 2016). Consequently, generalisations about pest or pathogen resistance of a species should not be made based on its subgenus alone.” T.J.MURRAY & H.LIN ] The final sentence makes some sense (but not as a consequence of the argument presented previously).

Let me check if any of this applies to what I want to do. Now, I don't want to grow Tasmanian; non-commercial; or non-durable species; not in a laboratory; nor in Australia or any place overseas. From the approximately 470 Symphyomyrts I only want to grow one of the 19 “Symphyomyrt” species (actually it is from the subgenus Alveolata ) and none of the 16 (out of 108 ) subgenus Eucalyptus species experimented on by Stone et al; I definitely want to grow trees a lot longer than the first three years. I know that species from the subgenus Eucalyptus can be improved just as readily as Symphyomyrts. Here, I only want to consider the 3 SWP species; 3 from the EAG stringybark programme and possibly a couple of others, and grow the most likely candidates on a NZ hill country site with the prospect of climate change. And I want to reserve the most sheltered and richest dirt on my section for māra kai.. I also take it that the stringybarks have a narrower sap band, especially at younger age; also that they could have high productivity on less fertile sites, as could some symphyomyrts outside of the SWP/DFI programme.

Although it's greenhouse work, Zauza et al,[36] and Sandhu & Park [37]  give a more realistic appraisal of myrtle rust risk as it applies to ground durable species. It would appear that E globoidea isn't the best choice of stringybark.

In climate change, whether to warmer or cooler, there is greater climatic variability creating unpredictability in weather, making planting and growing food crops riskier, leading to crop failure. In times of climate change uncertainty and crop failure, migration increases and pressure is put on land resources. The argument that stringybarks are unsuitable for rich moist sites is irrelevant in this situation; just as it now becomes for E. bosistoana and E. quadrangulata. The stringybarks aren't in competition for high quality sites; nor are poor soil specialist symphyomyrts such as E. punctata.

Satchell [38]  notes the durability of thinnings: E. sphaerocarpa has good durability at a young age, while both E. quadrangulata and E. bosistoana don't. Further anecdotal evidence indicates that E. sphaerocarpa may be a better choice for a post or pole crop; also for short rotation forestry not only for naturally ground durable timber but also for high strength and appearance timber. Despite a species having been grown in NZ or “proved” itself over 100 years or more,- the requirements for special environments (fertile, or virtually wind free) plus lack of durability in young age trees are deciding factors in decisions not to grow such species.

Cookson's [10]  work shows faster rate of decay at Sydney (historical mean annual rainfall 950mm) than Melbourne with basically the same rainfall (920mm),- with no termite hazard on either site – 4 degree latitude difference, and >33% reduction in durability for E. bosistoana.

Page & Singh [39]  note that decay is faster in warmer, moist environments. Horticultural use will expose posts to pretty much the same soil moisture levels across major horticultural areas of NZ: global warming will give warmer holes. I include Cookson's service life measurements from Innisfail as an illustration of the potential of a black swan with termites. In general terms we can expect a lowering of durability as temperature rises. We could take an observed service life of a 20cm diameter D2 pole to have been around 30 years under late 20th century conditions in NZ: for trees planted now this durability is likely drop to <20 years if tropical expansion continues as some expect; or less if termites are introduced.

Despite the industry's lack of leadership, there exist individual EAG members pushing the leading edge of research for the foundations of a NZ Eucalypt industry that could prosper under climate change. The EAG is not a partner in the SWP.


I found within the NZ forestry industry and research community:

  • no evidence of formal practice or research into the concept of risk management of market competitiveness in naturally durable eucalypt timber either under or without climate change; and effectively nothing informally:
  • a lack of discussion on the land use implications of climate change;
  • nothing that would assist growers understand the financial risks of embarking on long term rotations of virtually untested eucalypt species in an uncertain climate;
  • poor understanding of practices that would assist establishment of trees in a sub-optimal climate that might change into an optimal one:
  • poor understanding of what causes or effects natural durability in eucalypt heartwood;
  • despite the extensive amount of documentation available on the SWP durable Eucalypt programme, and the millions of dollars spent by it,- no evidence of ISO 130000/ [40], or ISO 13010 , [41] criteria being used in it; nor of best practice in management and governance.
  • a lack of genuine appreciation and understanding of the EAG's leading edge ”stringybark” programme (even among its own members),- and how that model of research is the most fit for species-to-site & market-competitiveness matching under climate change. The EAG programme has been a victim of Brandolini's Law..

I came to the conclusion that having the industry gamble with our money by investing it in species that compete with food production; pandering to a niche market such as a hole in the ground; and ignoring the wider potential for productivity on forestry sites, couldn't be seen as the actions of a prudent person.

Whereas the EAG programme is rational sapient and the best way forward.


(as they appear: not alphabetical)

[1] Regional characteristics of tropical expansion and the role of climate variability. Christopher Lucas and Hanh Nguyen 2015


[3] H Nguyen, H H Hendon, E P Lim, G Bochat, E Maloney, B Timbol 2017 Variability of the extent of the Hadley circulation in the southern hemisphere: a regional perspective

[4] Before: The Honourable Mr. Justice Giaschi Oral Reasons for Judgment Mann v. Ball 2019 BCSC 1589

[5]Max Paschall 2018 Exploring North America's Oldest Food Forest

[6] Max Paschall 2018 Standards for Selecting Climate Resilient Trees in the Northeast

[7] Richard Bellman being lost in a forest,

[8] Specialty Wood Partnership [SWP] durable Eucalypt programme

[9] Eucalypt Action Group [EAG] “Stringybark” programme

[10] L. J. Cookson 2004 The In-ground Natural Durability of Australian Timbers

[11] Richard P. Feynman Cargo Cult Science Some remarks on science, pseudo-science, and learning how to not fool yourself. Caltech’s 1974 commencement address.

[12] Evolutionary Trade-Off between Vocal Tract and Testes Dimensions in Howler Monkeys
Jacob C. Dunn Lauren B.Halenar Thomas G.Davies JurgiCristobal-Azkarate David Reby Dan Sykes Sabine Dengg W. Tecumseh Fitch Leslie A.Knapp

[13] Morgenroth, J., Lausberg, M., Millen, P., Mason, E., Meason, D., Dungey, H., Evans, M. 2016. A regional approach to matching specialty timber species to sites. Specialty Wood Products Partnership.

[14] Serajis Salekin, Justin Morgenroth, Euan Mason 2017 Modelling growth of Eucalyptus spp. on New Zealand dryland micro-sites

[15] Glenn Howe, Kevin Harding and Andy Buchanan: Expert Advisory Panel review of the SWP programme -2017

[16] NZDFI Site-Species Matching Research Plan

[17] Barry Poole, Gary Waugh & Jun Li Yang 2017 Potential for Growing and Processing Durable Eucalypts in New Zealand

[18]NZDFI 2018 Consultation Paper: Durable eucalypt forests:A multi-regional opportunity for investment in NZ drylands

[19] NIWA Climate change scenarios for New Zealand

[20] NZDFI 2016 Notes for visit to NZDFI trial at Rick Alexander’s property

[21] NZDFI 2019 Regional Stratagy: 2020 to2030 Durable Eucalypts A Multi-RegionalOpportunity for New Zealand’s drylandsFocus Areas and Action/Goals for 2019-2022

[22] The NZDFI breeding research plan

[23] Michael R Ngugi, David Doley, Mark Cant & Daniel B Botkin 2015 Growth rates of Eucalyptus and other Australian native tree species derived from seven decades of growth monitoring

[24] Denis Hocking, Alleviating the boredom with eucalypts New Zealand Tree Grower November 2008.

[25] Yanjie Li · Luis A. Apiolaza· Clemens Altaner Genetic variation in heartwood properties and growth traits of Eucalyptus bosistoana in European Journal of Forestry Research June 2018

[26] Michael S Watt, Miko U F Kirschbaum, John R Moore, H Grant Pearce, Lindsay S Bulman, Eckehard G Brockerhoff, Assessment of multiple climate change effects on plantation forests in New Zealand 2018

[27] Eucalyptus laevopinea for high value hardwood Sunday, May 25, 2014

[28] Lost durable eucalypt trials, Northland Saturday, May 24, 2014, Dean Satchell's blog

[29] Huimin Lin : Risk and Impact of Insect Herbivores on the Development 0f Dryland Eucalyptus Forestry in New Zealand

[30] Luigi Gea and Tony Shelbourne, Eucalypt species trials in the Wairarapa and Hawke’s Bay New Zealand Tree Grower November 2006

[31] Mcneil comments in Satchell

[32] Huimin Lin Tara Murray Euan Mason 2016 Population Dynamics of Four Insect Defoliators in a Dryland South Island Eucalyptus plantation

[33] Tara Murray & Huimin Lin on page 46 of Managing insect pest risks for durable eucalypts in New Zealand: optimised monitoring and selection for tolerance. in DURABLE EUCALYPTS ON DRYLANDS: PROTECTING AND ENHANCING VALUE Clemens M. Altaner, Tara J. Murray and Justin Morgenroth (Eds) WORKSHOP PROCEEDINGS 2017

[34] Stone, C., Simpson, J. A. & Gittins, R. 1998. Differential impact of insect herbivores and fungal pathogens on the Eucalyptus subgenera Symphyomyrtus and Monocalyptus and genus Corymbia. Australian Journal of Botany,46,723-734

[35] Potts, B. M., Sandhu, K. S., Wardlaw, T., Freeman, J., Li, H. F., Tilyard, P. & Park, R. F. 2016. Evolutionary history shapes the susceptibility of an island tree flora to an exotic pathogen. Forest Ecology and Management,368,183-193

[36] Edival A. V. Zauza, Acelino C. Alfenas, Ken Old, Michelle M. F. Couto ,Rodrigo N. Gra¸ca and Luiz Antônio Maf?a Myrtaceae species resistance to rust caused by Puccinia psidii Australasian Plant Pathology, 2010, 39, 406–411

[37]Dr. Karanjeet Sandhu and Prof. Robert Park 2013 Genetic basis of pathogenicity in Uredo rangelii

[38] Eucalyptus sphaerocarpa, my favourite durable timber species Saturday, December 20, 2014, Dean Satchell's blog

[39] Page & Singh



Why I became, and remain, a clearwood advocate

Wink Sutton's Blog
Friday, October 04, 2019

Only recently have I become aware of the concept of unique special product or proposal. However, I now realise that for most of my forestry life I have been seeking to find how New Zealand’s radiata plantations can be managed to grow our own unique special product or USP.

I have long been aware that attempting to grow a commodity is most unlikely to be our best strategy. It is far better if we are able to produce a quality product that other species or other countries are not able to produce. I now find that while my vision is generally supported by small plantation owners, especially those who are distant from log markets, my USP vision is not shared by the large plantation owners of the central North Island.

First, some history and my early involvement with radiata clearwood. The first sawing of our plantations in the first half of the 20th century produced sawn timber which was full of knots, often large dead knots. Some trees had long internode logs or were of true uninodal form from which at least four feet, 1.2 metres, of clear cuttings could be sawn for the production of factory grade sawn timber or peeled for the production of knot free surfaces on plywood.

In the mid 20th century it became obvious to New Zealand forestry planners that, although the nation’s indigenous forest had for more than a century been the source of large mature trees which produced an abundance of clear sawn timber, that supply would eventually be either exhausted or put into reserves which prevented harvesting.

We owe an enormous debt to Stan Reid and Mat Grainger for their early advocacy of pruning our plantations. Stan Reid maintained that when it was defect free or clear, our radiata was the equal of old growth ponderosa pine from the West Coast of the USA.

Pruning needed

In 1959 the NZ Forest Service economist Mat Grainger was aware that, before indigenous sawmillers were granted a licence for the current year, they had to provide a return on volumes of indigenous tree species by sawn timber grades they had sawn in the previous year. Mat asked the Forest Service Head Office Timber Sales Branch, who held those sawmill returns, if they could use them to calculate the percentage of indigenous saw timber cut that was clearwood or defect free. I was a third year Forest Service trainee in 1959, seconded to work part time in the Timber Sales Branch. I was asked to undertake the task of data extraction and collation for Mat.

From what I remember just on half of the indigenous timber cut was heart dressing A grade − in other words quality clearwood. Mat used my calculations to advocate that if New Zealand was to have an equal volume of locally produced long length clears, the state plantations must all be pruned. The private sector which controlled about half of the nation’s plantation was generally not interested in pruning. Mat assumed that because we used a large volume of indigenous clearwood our plantations had to be a replacement source of supply. Indigenous clear saw timber was supplied so cheaply that this top grade was often used wastefully – for example as minor construction jobs like chicken coups.

Pruning evaluation

Because of the sirex wood wasp epidemic from 1945 to 1955 in our maturing radiata pine, and along with our past concentration on radiata, most new state plantings in the 1940s and the 1950s were of Douglas- fir, Corsican pine and Ponderosa pine along with a few other tree species. As most of our radiata pine plantations were then too old to be pruned, pruning was generally restricted to tree species other than radiata. For most of the next three decades pruning became an act of faith in many state plantations.

In the summer of 1960/61 I was assigned to the Forest Research Institute and asked to evaluate pruning of Ponderosa pine in Karioi forest. I have no idea why I was selected to do this as I had done no real research before. The evaluation was to follow George Brown’s node study method. This used a small axe to split the biscuit-sawn timber to contain the pruning scars to determine the depth of clearwood outside the pruned stubs and occlusion.

Some Karioi Ponderosa had been first pruned in 1943 which was 17 years before my evaluation, yet on some of those trees the clearwood sheath had not yet started. I came to the conclusion that rotations of at least 70 years were needed before significant amounts of clearwood would be produced. My report almost disappeared except I had given a copy to the Director of Economics Ron Williams and he was impressed.

The sequel was that the Wellington Conservancy had asked for head office approval to spend about a million pounds pruning and thinning Karioi forest. The Director of Management, Alan Familton, was highly sceptical but did not have any convincing evidence on which to decline the request. He discussed his misgivings with the Director of Economics and my report came up.

Alan Familton used the report to decline the request and asked Wellington Conservancy to provide alternative evidence. None was ever supplied. I felt rewarded – my first research effort had saved a greater sum than all the money I would ever earn in my entire career.

Scientific pruning

In 1963 before going overseas I was assigned to the Forest Research Institute to work with Bob Fenton. I was asked to look at the relation in pruned logs between the small end diameter, the size of the knotty core and the final log size log. (See the paper by Fenton, Sutton and Drewitt in the proceedings of the First Pruning and Thinning Symposium.)

What that research clearly showed was that the maximum volume of clearwood was obtained by keeping the knotty core as small as possible and the final log diameter as large as possible.Yes, the study was theoretical, but in 1963 there were few large pruned logs with small defect cores available for sawing. In 1965, after getting my forestry degree, I was posted to the Forest Research Institute and joined a new research group, the economics of silviculture branch, with specific responsibility for pruning and thinning.

It was not until the late 1960s that pruning became ‘scientific’, in other words based on measurement and economics. Then pruning was applied generally only to young radiata plantations. This meant pruning early, to restrict the size of the defect core, with heavy early thinning to a low final crop stocking to maximise the diameter of the butt log.

By the end of the 1960s or early 1970s two principles emerged from our plantation management research −

  • That the size and the quality of trees at harvest were determined by the decisions at the time of planting − site, species, genetics and spacing − and by stand management in the first few years such as thinning and pruning. This meant that by five or six years the quality of those trees had already been determined, even though the trees would not be harvested for another 20 to 25 years.
  • Log and tree returns at harvest time are determined not by log and tree costs at the time of early management decisions but by the price which exists on the day of harvest.

Export dependent

For radiata pruned sawlogs there are at least two decades between the time of early management decisions and that of the final harvest. In the early 1970s I was aware of these principles, and as New Zealand already had a greater area of plantations than we could expect to use locally, it was obvious that our forestry future depended on wood exports. The trees which we were tending in the early 1970s, and whose quality we could still influence, would be finally harvested around the year 2000.

I wanted to know what wood products could be in demand and at the highest prices around the year 2000. In 1972 I obtained a scholarship for a doctorate on this question. The key to my assessment of the year 2000 was the realisation that, although most overseas forest managers were largely unaware, the principles that we had found for our plantations were just as applicable to all of the world’s forests, especially plantations.

I researched all of the world’s major softwoods and came to the conclusion that our radiata clearwood was not only a substitute for old growth Ponderosa pine, which was probably the most valuable softwood in North America, but also that there were very few other tree species which could compete with our radiata. I independently confirmed what Stan Reid had been telling us decades before.

With the advantage of hindsight I should have expanded my study to cover hardwoods because these have continued to supply the global markets which I expected would have needed our clear radiata. However, there is a limit to what can be done on your own within three years and I was also limited by what information was available.

Convincing owners to prune

On my return to New Zealand in 1975 I gave hundreds of presentations summarising my supporting evidence and advocating timely pruning. My major concern was how to convince forest owners to prune when there was no established market for radiata pruned logs and none could exist until pruned logs became available for sawing or peeling in about 20 to 25 years’ time – a classic Catch 22 position.

My talks were generally well received but there were significant objections. Probably my most ardent critic was the then Director of the Commercial Division of the Forest Service, Bruce Webby. Bruce, at the conclusion of my Rotorua presentation, claimed that ‘plantation owners can prune as much as they like but sawmillers will never pay anything more for pruned logs.’ Of course, he could not have experienced or seen the sawn output of a well pruned log.

As for exports, Webby also claimed that nobody overseas will buy that ‘crap’ referring to long length radiata clears. With some notable exceptions, sawmillers seemed to have generally agreed with Webby − probably because sawmillers had sawn logs that were claimed to have been pruned but had been pruned so late that there had been little or no improvement in grade out-turn.

To enhance the quality and the volume of the butt log, timely early pruning with heavy early non- commercial thinning to a low final crop stocking has been advocated. However, this increases the management costs as well as reducing tree growth. Selective pruning, just pruning some of the final crop trees, is not practicable as experience and research has demonstrated that selected pruned trees tend to be quickly overtaken by their unpruned neighbours.

Tombleson in 2018 quotes estimates that, to compensate for the cost of pruning, as well as the volume loss per hectare as a result of pruning, pruned logs at felling should have premiums of at least $100 a cubic metre greater than unpruned logs. Current premiums for pruned logs are about half this estimate. Possibly for this reason, the two largest plantation investment companies in the central North Island have generally decided not to prune.

These investment companies have no doubt carried out studies on future markets as well as assessed other possible global sources of supply and concluded that there will be a limited profitable market prospect for pruned radiata clears. As no other country or species can grow clearwood, these companies must have good and strong evidence that our radiata clearwood will not find ready and profitable export markets.

Adding value

New Zealand is concerned about exporting low value unprocessed green and wet logs so a sure way of ensuring domestic processing is to prune in a timely fashion. Domestic processing and exporting just dry finished timber virtually eliminates the risk of sap stain. By concentrating on current log sale values, New Zealand could be seriously under-estimating the long-term benefits of pruning.

The current premiums for pruned logs are lower than most growers or investors expected and are probably less than the compounded cost of pruning and volume loss. However, the downstream added-value benefits of pruning have been generally ignored.

Because of the possibility of pruned logs becoming sap stained during sea transport, it is better to process pruned logs in this country. Tombleson estimates that the 12 plants in the central North Island process 1.226 million cubic metres of pruned logs a year, employ 1,575 staff and have an annual turnover of $734 million. These returns work out at $586 a cubic metre or $466,000 per process employee.

This is an added value multiplier of more than three or four times the return that growers receive from supplying the domestic and export log market for the best quality unpruned logs. The return to a processor of pruned logs, especially the return per employee, is not as good as this analysis suggests because processors need to buy the pruned logs in the first place. Even if there is a lower current harvest price than expected, the case for timely radiata pruning appears to be overwhelming, especially as it ensures we have our own unique special product.

Unique story

While on the theme of clearwood I am reminded of an incident which occurred when I was employed by Fletcher Forests. The company was exporting clear mouldings to the USA through a north American joint venture company. That company sent a senior manager to access the sustainability of future clearwood supplies.

Just the drive down from Auckland to Rotorua was enough to satisfy him that there would be few problems obtaining future supplies. As part of his New Zealand tour I took the company representative on my plantation history tour. At the end of the tour he commented ‘you claim that in the 1970s New Zealand was tending its plantations to supply us with radiata clears in the 1990s.’ I, of course, replied that we were. Then he completely blew my confidence away by saying ‘but you never told us so’. To this day we have largely not told our unique story to the world. As a marketing tool we should because it is a good and interesting story.

Long internodal or uninodal trees

It is now almost overlooked, but in our 1968 paper advocating heavy early thinning to the final crop stocking, Fenton and I included the recommendation that pruning selection be biased towards the tendency of the second log, the one above the butt log, to have long internodes. These logs could later be sawn for clear cuttings.


The head of the Forest Research Institute’s tree improvement section, Ib Thulin, appears to have been very much against uninodal or long internode trees. He maintained that uninodals were never straight and were never dominant.

How was it that an obvious uninodal was selected as a 26-year-old representative of un-thinned and unpruned radiata pine? The photograph above, published by the government printer in 1964, clearly shows a uninodal which is both straight and dominant. Since then there has been little selection for long internodes and uninodals, and most of the tree breeding effort has been to reduce internodal length and increase the number of branches. Tree breeders often maintain that their basis of selection has the support of the captains of industry.

Although long length clear radiata is required for mouldings and plywood, most of the clearwood users, such as furniture and joinery manufacturers, do not require long length clearwood. I am aware that the recovery of radiata short clear cuttings of 1.2 metres and longer is uneconomic at present. New Zealand and Chile have largely abandoned the process.

I contend, however, that we should be taking a long-term view. If this were 1900 there would be an abundance of high quality clears form the likes of kauri and rimu available for little more than the cost of felling and sawing. An advocate for clear radiata pine would never attract support in 1900 even though it was obvious to some that one day there would be almost no New Zealand indigenous trees available for sawing and peeling.

Recovery of clear cuttings is currently uneconomic but will this always be the case? In 20 to 30 years’ time most of the world’s large high quality trees will have been felled or be unavailable for exploitation. Although most of the world’s indigenous forests are claimed to be sustainably managed, I have serious doubts that most of these forests will have large trees capable of producing clearwood.

When clear, radiata pine is among the best softwoods in the world. In 20 to 30 years our clears from timely pruning and our clear cuttings from long internode and uninodal trees will be in great international demand, and prices for both will be higher than those today. Remember there will be almost no international competition.

Silvicultural research

I am also concerned about direction of some silvicultural research, especially the drive to increase average wood density and to advocate for higher final crop stockings. The push to increase average wood density has come from a desire to increase radiata’s structural wood properties, especially to increase the modulus of rupture or stiffness.

Compared with overseas plantations our radiata may have slightly lower average wood densities but our radiata is not as stiff as comparable plantation woods – wood such as that of the southern pines and Douglas- fir. But our radiata is not brittle when compared with comparable tree species. For its wood density radiata tends to have a higher modulus of elasticity or ease of bending compared with comparable plantation tree species.

We are constantly told that average wood density is an important measure of wood quality. If that is so we would expect that balsa wood, one of world’s lowest density woods, to be virtually unsaleable and Amazonian hardwoods, which have average dry wood densities of over 700 kilograms a cubic metre, to be in great demand.

In fact, the opposite is true. Balsa wood is in great demand and attracts high prices while dense Amazonian hardwoods are often unsaleable. Radiata wood has excellent finishing properties – the result of radiata latewood only having slightly higher wood densities than the earlywood. In addition, there is a gentle transition between the earlywood and latewood bands.

No competition

I just trust that the attempt to increase wood density is not at the expense of radiata’s excellent finishing properties. I am yet to be convinced of the need to produce a better structural timber, that is one with a greater modulus of rupture, from our radiata plantations. My analysis of the future global wood supply shows that there will probably be no shortage of structural timber unless the trend to build using wood results in a quantum increase in wood demand.

Compared to clears, structural sawn timber grades do not attract high prices. Anyway, even if a building requires mostly structural grade sawn timber, some finishing grade sawn timber will be required for interior fittings. There is no chance of New Zealand swamping the global clearwood market. We can never supply more than a few per cent of the global wood supply and our clears face almost no competition.

Chile may prune but, because of the demands of the pulp industry, it is locked into short rotations and high stocking levels. Most of major radiata growing areas of Australia generally do not prune. South Africa has a very small area of radiata plantations. Spain generally does not prune its radiata. Globally, no other plantation trees have the potential which our radiata has.

Increasing wood density or stiffness in no way qualifies our radiata as a unique special product − such a move makes us just another commodity producer. It may be to our advantage if we aimed to reduce radiata’s wood density as well as less difference between the densities of earlywood and latewood to improve radiata’s finishing properties. If wood users require a higher density wood then there are chemical and other treatments available which can achieve this. Perhaps there is a case for breeding two separate radiata types – one specialising in low density radiata clearwood to be pruned and the other in higher density and stiffer structural timber which will not be pruned.

Yield and returns

I am also not impressed with the attempt to maximise yield and returns. Harry Bunn, Bob Fenton and I attempted to do this in the late 1960s but to my knowledge, because it appeared to be so obvious, we never published our findings. With flat stumpages, that is with no price premiums for log size or log quality, it is possible to theoretically maximise yield and returns, but you introduce realistic premiums for log size and log quality and it is nearly impossible to maximise both volumes and financial returns. High stocking reduces average piece size as well as increases the yield of pulp wood which universally does not command high prices. In addition, when the stocking level is high and the average piece is small there will be a greater volume of slash left on felled areas. The day may come when the public object to minimally tended radiata stands, especially when they realise that this treatment could be depriving the nation of increased employment and overseas earnings opportunities.

Wood wasp

Most are no longer aware that the driving force behind the original John Ure radiata regime was New Zealand’s experience with the sirex wood wasp. Although up to 90 per cent of unthinned stems could be killed by the wood wasp, some trees survived. I can just remember seeing sirex affected stands – they looked terrible. They gave the appearance that every tree had been killed.

No wonder overseas visitors as well as local critics were quick to condemn the nation’s concentration on radiata.

All the talk in the 1940s and 1950s was the need to thin radiata to a final crop stocking below the mortality line. Experience had shown that for mature stands this was about 80 stems an acre or 200 per hectare. Because of the introduction of parasites, sirex is no longer a problem, but with high final crop stockings we run the risk of some unknown destructive insect or disease being introduced causing havoc in highly stocked, and ever-increasing stressful conditions as stands age.

A New Forest Service?

With the philosophy that plantation forestry was now a mature industry and that all decisions, especially financial, could be better done by the private sector, the Labour government of the second half of the 1980s broke up the Forest Service. State plantation forests were sold, other functions dispersed and forest research became a crown owned research institute, now called Scion. Remnants of the Forest Service were absorbed into the Department of Primary Industries. Largely lost in the breakup was the planning function of the Forest Service .This provided politicians with independent advice on the forestry sector.

However, the current Labour coalition government has re-established part of the former Forest Service – Te Uru Rakau. I trust that planning is one of the responsibilities of this new government department. There is an urgent need to address the wood supply problems that will arise from the nation’s grossly uneven past plantings. The 1990s saw a great new planting effort which was followed by almost two decades in which there was more plantation conversions, especially to dairy farming, than new plantation establishment.

New Zealand could see an export bonanza in the 2020s followed by a severe wood export shortage in the 2030s. Only an independent agency can solve this and other problems and advise the government of possible courses of action.

Final comment

New Zealand is fortunate to have introduced radiata pine in the latter half of 1800s. The plantation tree proved ideal for our climate and our soils. Experience and research over the last 150 years have given the tree species advantages that should be the envy of most other countries.

With stand management we can grow large diameter trees in 25 to 30 years. With timely pruning and thinning, combined with tree improvement concentrating on long internodes, we can produce clearwood that is the equal of best softwoods in the world. As other counties either cannot grow radiata or choose not to manage their radiata for maximum clearwood production, New Zealand is in a unique position.

Clearwood is our USP – uniquely special product.

Further reading

Brown G.S. (Comp), Bunn, E.H.(Ed) 1963: Pruning and Thinning Practice in New Zealand FRI Symposium No 3 New Zealand Forest Research Institute.

Fenton R.T. Sutton W.R.J. (1968): Silvicultural Proposals for Radiata Pine on High Quality Sites.
New Zealand Journal of Forestry 13 (2): 220-8

Sutton W.R.J. (1975): An Evaluation of New Zealand’s Forestry Export Potential. D. Phil thesis Oxford University.

Tombleson J. (2018) Pruned log supply from the Central North Island and disrupter influences on wood processing. NZ Journal of Forestry 62(4): 5-9.

Ure J. (1949) The Natural Regeneration of Pinus radiata on Kaingaroa Forrest. NZ Journal of Forestry 6 (1): 182- 192.

One post

Post from Shem & Jen Kerr on October 11, 2019 at 12:44pm

I attended a loppers ladders pruning saws Bunn-Barr clinic. There was lots of enthusiasm. More of a religious conversion event than science. Then I went to the field day at Inglewood Timber Processors. Totally unpruned trees were cut into boards cambian to cambian which were then kiln dried before being trucked to the factory where the knots were sawn out and bagged for firewood. The remaining timber was finger-jointed and exported to USA as balustrade; architrave; door blanks; etc. This is with 18 – 23% return on investment, as against 7 – 9% return for pruned trees. That was all last century,- has anything changed? Well, further disruption to the 27 year clear-pruned rotation: short rotation forestry at close spacing, - where pruning makes even less sense with radiata pine; though it might make sense with short rotation eucalypts. Is there a game changer or two that could advantage the concept of clear pruning?

Please can we have a recalculation of the costs/benefits of clear-pruning done by robots; or pruning machines. I know NZ likes to think that it's forestry is leading edge, but I can't find any evidence: maybe it's all top secret. There are some overseas examples: Pruning trees with the Clouston Tree Pruner (video); and article ; " A Pruning Robot With a Power-Saving Chainsaw Drive," by Yasuhiko Ishigure, Katsuyuki Hirai, and Haruhisa Kawasaki. 

Advaligno Patas 2018/09 - maschinelle Hochastung - mechanical delimbing - élagage – prototype

I can see some issues. What do you think?





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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