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Forest Research Moves Misguided

6 October 1999
Farm Forestry Association

Forest Research Moves Misguided

Current restructurings at Forest Research are causing considerable concern amongst farm foresters, according to Farm Forestry Association President John Prebble.

"As a result of recent obsessions with the need for an educated, informed and technically sophisticated economy, significant changes are occurring at New Zealand's main forestry research centre. Although about $26 million of research money is still being allocated to forestry, it appears Forest Research's work into growing is being cut quite drastically in favour of work on processing and marketing."

Of particular concern to farm foresters says Mr Prebble, is the gutting of work on alternative species.

There are several concerns and ironies in this shift: 1. Increased research into processing ignores the fact that New Zealand's competitive advantage is in growing, not processing. It is questionable whether those who have under-performed in the growing step, should have taxpayer-funded research to help them succeed in processing, said Mr Prebble. 2. It also ignores the fact that, currently, New Zealand's most valuable forestry exports (per tonne of wood fibre) are sawn clearwood and plywood, not the more highly processed pulp and fibre products. Per tonne of wood fibre, green clearwood is worth more than newsprint said Mr Prebble. The critical value-adding step for these highest value exports is in the growing phase. 3. It is ironic that Forest Research's proposed cut in work on alternative species ($1.7 million to $700,000) was announced the same month that the Labour Party announced plans to scrap Timberland's rimu and beech production. With the Buller over-cut ending in 15 months, 75% of current rimu production could finish by 2002, and Forest Research has opted out of work on substitutes for these high value species, according to Mr Prebble.

Contrary to the direction being advocated by Forest Research, the Farm Forestry Association believes that its emphasis on "growing value" is in both the country's and its members' interests, is a more environmentally benign option and is playing to our ongoing competitive advantage.

Mr Prebble said that as part of this growing value philosophy, the Association sees an expanding role for a range of alternative, high value timber species to supplement our declining native timber supply and to avoid becoming dependant on the diminishing resource of tropical timbers.

Even if Forest Research has opted out, farm foresters continue to opt in. "It is just unfortunate that with reduced research input, we'll probably take longer, make more mistakes, and possibly produce an inferior product."

Mr Prebble concluded by expressing the hope that other forestry interests and research providers will take a more enlightened view of how to extract maximum value from our forestry estate.


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