Supporting alternatives to radiata pine

Friday 31 Jul 2020

A new initiative by Forest Growers Research is underway to create an industry group for people working in New Zealand’s specialty timber industry. While over 90% of New Zealand’s forestry estate is radiata pine, many other species are grown in forests and on farms around the country. These alternative or ‘specialty’ timber species include exotic plantations of cypresses, redwoods, eucalypts and poplars as well as native timbers from sustainably managed private forests.

The exotic plantations cover over 67,000 hectares across New Zealand and add diversity to local forests and landscapes. They also offer economic value by sustainable harvest to produce high quality timbers. They have the potential to substitute much of the NZ$112 million worth of sawn timber imported into New Zealand annually, most of which is used in high-value joinery markets.

Locally grown specialty timbers are generally milled by small-scale operators who operate a sawmill at a permanent base, and/or who provide mobile sawmilling services. These people are typically highly skilled, energetic practitioners who are adept and innovative in engineering and technology, and who have a passion for wood. Small-scale sawmillers form a critical link in the specialty species value chain, but currently they all work independently.

Forest Growers Research is working alongside the forestry sector in proposing this initiative via the Specialty Wood Products programme (SWP) and an industry working group. The working group comprises several sawmillers and others working in the specialty timbers sector who support the concept of collaboration between members of the sector.

The group believes an industry entity of this nature could provide leadership, strengthen links in the value chain, attract and train new entrants, upskill existing practitioners, and develop branding and collaborative marketing that will increase the value and sales of specialty timbers.

Chair of the SWP, Peter Berg (NZ Farm Forestry Association and Tanes Tree Trust), says this proposal is aligned with a key objective of the SWP to develop regional strategies that unlock the commercial potential of these specialty species in conjunction with the key investors and stakeholders.

“We know there are several hundred professional sawmillers out there, all working independently,” says Peter. “As a sector they are already milling a resource worth tens of millions of dollars annually, but there is huge potential for the sector to expand, attract new entrants, and become more sustainable.

“An industry group could support people working in the sector in many ways, starting with things like a bespoke website, joint promotion and a regional marketing directory. Beyond this we see potential for many other benefits typically provided by similar industry groups – for example, product certification and approved/accredited sawmiller schemes, new timber grading standards, assistance with employment and Health and Safety responsibilities, and development of training courses and recognised career pathways.

The Farm Forestry Association’s Farm Forestry Timbers has begun work in some of these areas: we plan to build on that initiative by involving a much greater number of sawmillers and developing a wider range of services and benefits.”

A survey of the sector has been launched, targeted primarily at small-scale sawmillers. The survey, which runs until mid-August, aims to discover more about the activities of the sector, and gauge the level of likely support for an industry association. If enough positive responses are received, the next step will be to set up a steering group to lead the formation of the new association.

Source: Forest Growers Research

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