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Industry looks beyond radiata

Industry looks beyond radiata

Future generations of New Zealanders may live in a patchwork landscape where several different forest species compete on the hills for growing space with the familiar Pinus radiata.

“Radiata is a great multi-purpose tree that grows well in many places. But it is not perfect for all growing situations or market needs. And there are obvious risks in having all our eggs in one species basket,” says Forest Owners Association research and development manager Russell Dale.

“We are therefore thrilled as an industry that the government is joining us in the Specialty Woods Products Research Partnership. This is a major programme that will investigate new products and markets for alternative species and build the confidence of forest growers in planting those species that show promise.”

The seven-year programme, which has an annual budget of $1.97 million, is unique in the forest industry in that it spans the value chain from the end product to the trees themselves, their genetics and how they are grown.

The government, through the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment research partnership scheme, is matching an annual $710,000 contribution from forest growers. The balance of $550,000 is coming from the crown research institute Scion.

“The species being explored – Douglas-fir, cypresses and a number of eucalypts – have been popular with farm foresters for decades and Douglas fir is still planted by larger growers in cooler South Island areas. However, until now, they have not been the subject of a concerted research effort,” says Mr Dale.

“Unlike radiata and to a lesser extent Douglas-fir, our knowledge about growing, processing and marketing them is limited to the experience of a few keen individuals.

“We want to provide forest owners with recommendations for growing viable alternatives to radiata pine on particular classes of land. For example, eucalypts in low rainfall areas and coppicing species on steep erosion-prone hill country.

“Some of these species produce timber that is better suited than radiata to a range of applications. For example, eucalypts with high natural strength and durability for use as posts on organic vineyards, orchards and farms; or power pole cross-arms, railway sleepers and landscaping.

“There are also non-durable species that are ideal for use where visual appearance is important, like joinery and flooring. There is strong demand for sustainably-grown appearance timbers both in New Zealand and internationally.”

The programme will also try to find answers for some of the processing and drying issues that present special challenges for some of these species.

The research will be carried out by Scion, the University of Canterbury, Marlborough Research Centre (which has considerable experience growing eucalypts in dry environments) and eight international science collaborators, with assistance from industry participants.

“We expect the success of the programme will be reflected in better returns to the growers of the 142,000 ha of eucalypts, Douglas-fir and cypresses already in the ground. This in turn is likely to result in a big increase in the planting of these species,” Mr Dale says.

“There are three big long-term opportunities: naturally durable and appearance grade timbers, and the use of eucalypts to enhance the strength of radiata pine engineered wood products.

“By adding value to these species, our exporters will be able to offer a diversified product mix of timbers with superior wood properties – sustainably managed alternatives to increasingly scarce international high-value timbers like teak, rosewood and kwila.

“This in turn will result in more investment and employment in the regions.”

ends

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