A for­est owner’s tale

If you’ve ever been tempted to cre­ate your own for­est, or more likely, wood­lot, to pro­vide for your re­tire­ment years, this ac­count by a long-time forester makes wor­thy read­ing.

New Zealand Logger - - Breaking Out - Story & Pho­tos: Brian Reader

EARLY IN 1993 A MATE CALLED BY MY HOME AT ONEPU, in the Bay of Plenty, and wanted to yarn about forestry in gen­eral; not a prob­lem for me hav­ing had many years in­volved in the in­dus­try.

He asked a lot of ques­tions which I answered as best I could, one of his queries be­ing “how prof­itable is grow­ing wood?”

I didn’t know the an­swer as there are many is­sues that in­flu­ence profitabil­ity. What I did know was that in 1993 log prices were very good, par­tic­u­larly for ex­port. He then went on to say that there were two part planted blocks of land for sale lo­cally and would I have any in­ter­est in pur­chas­ing one as a joint ven­ture – I was.

We missed out on the 5ha block that we ini­tially agreed to pur­chase, so with­out hes­i­ta­tion, set­tled for the much larger block of 15ha, com­pris­ing 2ha of 24-year-old Pi­nus Ra­di­ata, 9ha of 2-yearold Pi­nus Ra­di­ata and 4ha of flat lucerne pad­dock with an ex­ist­ing airstrip in situ. Set­tle­ment was the first day of July, 1993.

Our first task was quit­ting the older age class, which was done with­out de­lay, it be­ing a stand suf­fer­ing from what I’ve al­ways termed, farmer syn­drome – if there is a blade of grass there, it’s got to have some bark eat­ing, four-footed an­i­mal on site, much to the detri­ment of pruned butts. The bark dam­age on some trees cre­ated by stock was bad enough to re­duce the first log from ‘pruned grade’ to ‘over­size pulp grade’ – more than a $100 per m3 loss. That’s 2,500 *^&#!@ dol­lars a truck load.

The 9ha age class was badly top­pled due to strong winds, so we set about stak­ing where nec­es­sary. The planted stock­ing was light at only 700 stems per hectare (spha) so we needed to have some guar­an­tee of crop se­lec­tion.

With the block in rea­son­able shape we turned our at­ten­tion to es­tab­lish­ing the bare land into what I in­tended to be a model crop of Ra­di­ata.

When con­sid­er­ing land on which to grow trees, one of the fac­tors that in­flu­ences the de­ci­sion to pro­ceed is known as the Site In­dex. This is de­ter­mined by com­bi­na­tions of as­pect, soil type, rain­fall, nu­tri­ents etc and is ex­pressed as a num­ber – the higher that num­ber the more like­li­hood that the land is suit­able for grow­ing wood fi­bre. I un­der­stand this num­ber in­di­cates the mean top height of the 100 tallest trees per hectare at age twenty. At the very least, it in­di­cates the wood fi­bre grow­ing po­ten­tial. The Site In­dex of our land pur­chase was 36.0 – high.

Know­ing this land’s his­tory (of up to five cuts of silage each sea­son fol­lowed im­me­di­ately by an ap­pli­ca­tion of urea) we knew that smart man­age­ment and good op­er­a­tional tim­ing would be essen­tial if we were go­ing to stay within ac­cept­able sil­vi­cul­ture stan­dards. The ground was ex­tremely com­pacted, as well as be­ing nu­tri­ent loaded; two el­e­ments that con­flict with ideal tree grow­ing. It was the per­fect site on which, if mis­man­aged, would grow ‘broc­coli’ i.e. typ­i­cally per tree one pruned butt, KI, KI, maybe a poor qual­ity saw log, pulp log – this a typ­i­cal log type from 1970’s ex-farm for­est es­tab­lish­ment.

We em­ployed the ser­vices of an agri­cul­tural con­trac­tor who deep ripped lo­cal maize pad­docks ev­ery 4-5 years and en­gaged him to rip rows to a depth of 80 cm. We also ef­fected a side­ways shat­ter by weld­ing a wing ei­ther side of the rip­per at 40cm depth with an an­gle to lift the soil thus cre­at­ing an ideal root for­ma­tion en­vi­ron­ment. To pro­vide for in­tended block man­age­ment, we deep ripped rows at 5-me­tre cen­tres pre­cisely by po­si­tion­ing a pipe bar at right an­gles on a trac­tor front and hung a chain at the 5m mark – by rip­ping with the sus­pended chain set di­rectly above the pre­vi­ous rip we es­tab­lished the per­fect row spac­ing.

The rea­sons for this “prepa­ra­tion” were:

• Seedling breed­ing and ge­net­ics had pro­gressed to a Growth and Form (GF) rat­ing of GF25. I was very keen to plant as a min­i­mum, a fi­nal crop stock­ing of 25’s at 350 stems per hectare (spha). How­ever; hav­ing seen some of this higher rated prod­uct and the dis­tinc­tive un­nat­u­ral root struc­ture (mul­ti­plied and grown in me­dia and with­out tra­di­tional tap root) I fig­ured we needed to en­gi­neer points of least re­sis­tance for root de­vel­op­ment there­fore as­sist­ing tree sta­bil­ity as the trees be­came es­tab­lished. At our ro­ta­tion end we had not one sin­gle windthrown tree.

• We needed to pro­vide easy grass har­vest­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties to off­set es­tab­lish­ment and op­er­at­ing costs and as well demon­strate to the lo­cal farm­ing fra­ter­nity the pos­si­bil­ity of dual land use.

The lo­cal nurs­ery could not sup­ply 1-year-old 25's but did have ad­e­quate 2-year-old (we only needed 1600 seedlings); th­ese were grow­ing like wheat in a cor­ner of the nurs­ery and nearly a me­tre high. We lopped them back to half that height and planted them at 6-me­tre cen­tres within the ripped rows. Th­ese seedlings were very ex­pen­sive. To con­trol branch size and pro­vide a pro­duc­tion thin op­por­tu­nity as well add to the fi­nal crop po­ten­tial, we in­ter­planted two GF 17’s (sig­nif­i­cantly cheaper) seedlings be­tween the 25’s giv­ing us 1,000 spha – ad­e­quate trees to achieve our ob­jec­tives.

As spring ap­proached, a com­bi­na­tion of Gal­lant/Gar­do­prim re­lease spray sorted any in­fil­tra­tion of com­pet­i­tive grass/weeds. Com­bined with grass har­vest­ing we had no tree sup­pres­sion prob­lems and by

year end our crop was look­ing good at one me­tre av­er­age height.

Di­rectly af­ter the Christ­mas break we en­gaged a con­trac­tor to cut and wrap pas­ture grown be­tween rows. Turn­ing the trac­tor and wrap­per was awk­ward at row ends so we took out strate­gic trees (sob) to as­sist; we har­vested 20 large bales, which we on-sold to lo­cal stock hold­ers and con­tin­ued to pas­ture har­vest for a fur­ther two years. Re­call tells me some Tarawera log­ging con­trac­tors who owned stock bought a few of those bales.

To main­tain our en­cour­ag­ing growth rates, a sec­ond grass spray ap­pli­ca­tion in Au­gust ‘94 com­bined with fur­ther grass har­vest seemed to keep the im­pe­tus go­ing with a tree height of near two me­tres by year end and some even ex­ceed­ing that height.

The tree growth rates over the first three years sug­gested we had cre­ated a sil­vi­cul­tural mon­ster. A ver­i­ta­ble ju­ve­nile Tane Mahuta of the Ra­di­ata world; ab­so­lutely re­mark­able. With a Site In­dex of 35 and the soil nu­tri­ent re­ten­tion, growth rates were un­be­liev­able and in­di­cated that to achieve an ac­cept­able DOS (Di­am­e­ter over stubs) we would need to prune an­nu­ally. This we did win­ter 1995, 1996 and 1997 achiev­ing pruned heights of 1.6, 2.9 and 3.9 me­tres re­spec­tively. Early in 1998 and late the same year, fourth and fifth prune lifts re­alised pruned heights of 5 and 6.4 me­tres. The mea­sured DOS’s for the five lifts were, re­spec­tively, 11.6, 15.8, 15.9, 14.5 and 16.1cm, well within ac­cept­able lim­its. At each pruned lift we re­tained a min­i­mum of one-third tree height green crown; so were not stress­ing the tree (an im­por­tant el­e­ment in main­tain­ing op­ti­mum tree growth). On com­plet­ing the fifth prune lift we re­moved 30% of the crop, leav­ing 700 spha to grow on – ad­e­quate stock­ing for con­tin­ued branch con­trol, pro­duc­tion thin­ning and fi­nal crop op­tions.

We hadn’t de­ter­mined the num­ber of GF25’s at this point, but the vis­ual im­pres­sion was that the num­ber was high.

As an em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­nity I un­der­took ‘Tree Tours’ for the Kaw­erau Pa­per Mill. Th­ese tours were aimed at im­prov­ing people’s con­cept/per­spec­tive of tree grow­ing and typ­i­cal par­tic­i­pants (though not lim­ited to) were staff of the New Zealand Her­ald news­pa­per. Our first stop was the Tree Im­prove­ment Cen­tre at Te Teko, where the ob­jec­tives of tree breed­ing were ex­plained. Our sec­ond port of call was our Clear­wa­ter For­est, where the in­ten­tions of tree im­prove­ment were plain for all to see; tall, straight, light limbed For­mula One trees.

In time, we con­sid­ered the op­tion of prun­ing be­yond ‘nor­mal heights’ (6.3 me­tres) and com­plet­ing a not nor­mal prune height of 8-plus me­tres. One rea­son not to do the 8-me­tre prune was that we would ex­tend the crop ro­ta­tion by two, maybe three, years. We needed 40cm di­am­e­ter at the 8m pruned height (min­i­mum di­am­e­ter for pruned logs) to jus­tify this. The rea­sons we chose to pro­ceed with an ex­tra height lift were; the ad­di­tional rev­enue, the ground was flat with fer­tile and easy work con­di­tions, the branch­ing was small, work can be and is for me, an adult form of play, and I was will­ing. We also planned to live long enough to reap the ex­tra ben­e­fits of this op­er­a­tion. We had a lo­cal fab­ri­ca­tor built us a 6-me­tre lean-to lad­der and the lift com­menced. By 1999 year-end, we com­pleted all prun­ing with:

• 310 spha pruned to 8.3m with a DOS of 18.3

• a fur­ther 35 spha to a min­i­mum of 6.3m

• pro­duc­tion thin­ning crop pos­si­bil­ity of 355 stems per hectare. At the same time, as we were es­tab­lish­ing and tend­ing the new age class we had four lift-pruned the 9ha stand. This, in it­self, was an un­event­ful ex­er­cise other than some weight loss for me, be­ing the main labourer and also helped with my age­ing process (this ex­plains some of the aches and pains de­vel­oped later in life and nec­es­sary joint re­place­ments!).

At some stage a pro­duc­tion thin­ning would be nec­es­sary to main­tain max­i­mum growth rates and help pay the rates. Con­sid­er­a­tion was given to two thin­nings but be­cause of ease of dam­age to the resid­ual ex­tra-high pruned stems the con­cept was aban­doned. Crop as­sess­ment in Win­ter 2003 re­vealed a vol­ume of 500 tonnes, which com­bined with our neigh­bours vol­ume of 430 tonnes made an ad­e­quate vol­ume for the lo­cal firm of As­set Forestry to sub­mit a price; this was ac­cepted and pro­duc­tion com­menced im­me­di­ately af­ter the pa­per mill agreed to pur­chase our prod­uct. Based on the young age class, there­fore a less-than de­sir­able den­sity, the mill were hes­i­tant to pur­chase but even­tu­ally did agree to buy.

As­set Forestry’s com­ple­ment of equipment, a Ponnse feller/ pro­ces­sor and a forwarder, suited our needs per­fectly. A skid site was cre­ated ad­ja­cent to our sealed road frontage and pro­duc­tion en­sued. Self Loader Log­ging, from Taupo, of­fered an ac­cept­able cartage rate (thank-you Brian Smith and driver Den­nis) and com­bined with a lead dis­tance of only 10 kms to the pa­per mill, we were a shoo-in to make a lit­tle profit. Be­ing a con­ser­va­tive per­son, I was al­ways go­ing to be bi­ased to­wards re­tain­ing more stems than less. As some trees had too large a di­am­e­ter to prune to 8m we re­tained 30-to-40 of th­ese per hectare; less pruned height but All Black front row props at the very least – those trees were crank­ing, as my son would de­scribe them.

In gath­er­ing the sup­port­ing in­for­ma­tion prior to pro­duc­tion thin­ning, a rough cal­cu­la­tion of 506 tonnes was de­rived. That the fi­nal de­liv­ered vol­ume was 503 demon­strates that ‘bush’ cal­cu­la­tions ought not be scoffed at. As the last sil­vi­cul­ture ac­tiv­ity to­wards es­tab­lish­ing a fi­nal crop, we as own­ers, were chuffed to say the least. The per­cent­age of GF25’s that made our fi­nal crop was 85%. Awe­some. The bal­ance? The best of the rest, so to speak, still fine trees. Vis­ual as­sess­ment in­di­cated most stems would pro­duce a pruned log maybe two, saw log, saw log, round wood and ground wood pulp. Not a hint of ‘broc­coli’. The com­bi­na­tion of su­pe­rior seedlings and the high nu­tri­ent pres­ence jus­ti­fied the re­ten­tion of 345 spha. Stan­dard stock­ings at the time were 250 spha plus.

Time passes by, we are a decade into a new mil­len­nium, trees grow, vol­umes ac­crue, im­proved tree ge­net­ics be­come more and more ap­par­ent, the clock ticks, I fi­nally win the bat­tle and quit smok­ing and log prices are good.

In dis­cussing the for­est with my busi­ness part­ner, the di­a­logue cen­tred on “what’s next?” Much to my hor­ror the pos­si­bil­ity of sell­ing our fi­bre was raised, but the good log prices made this a sen­si­ble ques­tion. I hadn’t de­voted my time and en­ergy to cut the trees just as the vol­ume and value graph was about to soar, or had I? There were good rea­sons not to cut, all discussed at length, the most rel­e­vant be­ing “we didn’t have to”. Pro­vid­ing rev­enue for the later part of our lives had al­ways been a fo­cus and ob­jec­tive. WHEN that rev­enue is re­alised is ar­guably unim­por­tant. With log prices as they were, (high) NOW be­came an in­flu­ence, and some­thing we would be fool­ish to ig­nore. Who knows what life’s go­ing to deal you, so the de­ci­sion to cut was agreed.

We sought the ser­vices of an agent able to man­age all the non­op­er­a­tional re­quire­ments – the right con­trac­tor, best com­ple­ment of equipment, log sales, con­sents, har­vest plans, docket books, cut plans, le­gal ex­its onto state high­way, lo­cal coun­cil re­quire­ments, all the ‘stuff’ that most of us hands-on people take for granted; we found our agent in Ross Green (Rusty) of For­est Link Ltd.

By Spring­time 2011, Ross had ev­ery re­quire­ment in place and we were ready to har­vest.

Our con­trac­tor was Ross Balder­stone, a very ex­pe­ri­enced log­ger with South Is­land West Coast blood in his veins. His log­ging fleet was a Tim­ber­jack 2618 with a 20-inch Waratah head and a Ko­belco 235SRLC track loader. For track ac­cess down to the stream, Ross dry­hired a ten tonne Hi­tachi as and when re­quired.

I had met Ross way back when he ran an FMC in Nel­son pulling wood in Golden Downs, as well as do­ing some Depart­ment of Con­ser­va­tion (DoC) work. Ross em­ployed an ac­quain­tance of mine from yes­ter­year, Wayne Lowe from Taupo, who op­er­ated an F65 skid­der with a grap­ple. I had worked with Wayne in Tauhara in the late 1970’s. It was nice to have th­ese two ghosts from my past on board. Ross also em­ployed a tree faller.

At this point our out­let was go­ing to be ex­port logs through the Tau­ranga port with a small vol­ume of pulp to Kaw­erau, but out of nowhere an al­ter­na­tive cus­tomer be­came avail­able – the lo­cal pa­per mill for most of the cut.

The Kaw­erau Pa­per Mill op­er­ates through­out the cal­en­dar year on sawmill chip with spas­modic top-ups of small vol­umes of whole log chip. When the Bay of Plenty Sawmills shut down at Christ­mas for main­te­nance there is no chip avail­able, so we were ap­proached as one of their top-up op­tions. I was un­com­fort­able with the thought of all our hard work go­ing down a pulp chute but ap­pro­pri­ate log prices were ne­go­ti­ated for all ex­ist­ing grades within the stand. Not

pur­chased by the Mill were any pruned logs with min­i­mum di­am­e­ters of 40 cen­time­tres, th­ese were des­tined for ex­port mar­kets.

Pro­vided we could agree on log grade out turn, there was no value loss for us and the op­er­a­tion was greatly sim­pli­fied. Apart from the ex­port pruned logs there were no set length cuts, just ran­dom logs so no has­sles with log length ac­cu­racy.

My ini­tial dis­com­fort was al­le­vi­ated when Rusty in­formed us he had also ne­go­ti­ated log price move­ments rel­a­tive to ex­port sched­ules for our pulp-des­tined wood. Go you good thing. Ex­port prices were trend­ing up­wards and con­tin­ued to do so for the du­ra­tion of our har­vest.

The block to be logged was di­vided by a beau­ti­ful spring-fed stream, the Man­gaone, with 8 of the 12 hectares to be har­vested on the west­ern side (over the stream). Un­able to ac­cess this with­out spend­ing too much money (it would have negated lots of rev­enue) we asked for and were granted per­mis­sion to use our neigh­bour’s prop­erty pro­vided we left his farm lanes in as good a state or bet­ter than op­er­a­tional start-up. Was that ever go­ing to be an is­sue? Never.

In early Novem­ber, we got started (putting some diesel on it). We needed to be­gin on the west­ern side of the stream as the land owner had silage to cut and we were cart­ing through his pad­docks. By Christ­mas that side of the stream was al­most com­pleted. Com­pared

with set length cut­ting, our ran­dom length pulp cut plan meant less log mak­ing has­sles. With the small vol­ume of prune logs, pro­duc­tion was un­com­pli­cated. Our con­sent de­manded con­di­tions that we needed to com­ply with, one be­ing to take due care and at­ten­tion with the stream­side har­vest­ing. We had 100% com­pli­ance and also left a nicely pumiced and graded farm road for our ac­com­mo­dat­ing farmer.

Early in 2011, we com­menced the log­ging of the ge­net­i­cally su­pe­rior stand on the State High­way 30 side of the block. Con­sid­er­ing the pre­vi­ous his­tory re­gard­ing this stand, log­ging it was sim­plic­ity it­self and com­pleted with­out has­sle. A lit­tle ex­tra ef­fort and skill was re­quired to safely deal with the trees within two lengths of the SH30, which the con­trac­tor han­dled with con­sum­mate skill. We de­liv­ered 6,000 tonnes to the pa­per mill in Kaw­erau and 500 tonnes of pruned logs to Mt Maun­ganui.

With lit­tle doubt the high price we paid for the land would prob­a­bly not be what long term in­vestors in ‘wood grow­ing’ would con­sider sen­si­ble. In 2013, af­ter some re­plant­ing and com­bined with some pas­ture es­tab­lish­ment, we sold the land for a sum ap­pro­pri­ate for the pe­riod of time with which we had had own­er­ship. There­fore, the land use was sim­ply the ve­hi­cle for fi­bre cre­ation and the cost was of no sig­nif­i­cance.

Con­fir­ma­tion for me, in as­sem­bling this his­tory, was how much time and ef­fort is the re­al­ity in es­tab­lish­ing a crop of trees. The ap­pli­ca­tion of sil­vi­cul­tural skills and phys­i­cal ef­fort nec­es­sary in cre­at­ing a high value prod­uct is labour in­ten­sive and hard work. A day spent lad­der prun­ing is as tough a day as any log­ging role, bar maybe man­ual trim­ming in pro­duc­tion thin­ning. And I hear you – “we don’t do that now!”

In­ter­est­ingly, the ven­ture demon­strated that grow­ing wood fi­bre on high value land is not a wasted use so long as in­ten­sive sil­vi­cul­tural prac­tises are ad­hered to and log sales are not a forced is­sue. Be­ing able to sell when it suits you as the owner is im­por­tant and can be an ideal op­tional use of farm­land to sup­ple­ment in­come.

When com­par­ing man hours spent per hectare in cre­at­ing a crop of trees ver­sus the man hours in har­vest­ing a hectare of trees it seems that the log­ging is but a time blip. If we ex­am­ine the cap­i­tal out­lay, skill re­quire­ment, ex­po­sure to po­ten­tial dan­gers and ac­tual re­al­i­sa­tion of value then har­vest­ing ap­pears to be the ic­ing on the cake. Let’s be con­scious of and ac­knowl­edge there is a sig­nif­i­cant hu­man ef­fort made way be­fore we are able to ‘put some diesel on it’ and make some stumps.

Don’t for­get to leave some hold­ing wood.

Again, I hear you – “we don’t do that so much now!”

Har­vest­ing con­trac­tor, Ross Balder­stone, be­side a stack of ex­port pruned butts ready to be loaded.

Main: Log­ging is well un­der way, with Wayne Lowe’s F65 grap­ple skid­der and Ross Balder­stone’s pro­ces­sor hard at work. Above left: Stand­ing trees prior to har­vest. The tree near­est to the cam­era has a 63cm di­am­e­ter breast height at age 18! Above right: One of the Watchorn trucks waits to be loaded with pruned logs.

Above left: Brian Reader and his wood­lot busi­ness part­ner take the op­por­tu­nity to har­vest hay from their young for­est. Above left: A loaded truck about to leave the skid site with lengths of pruned logs, bound for the port at Mt Maun­ganui. Below: A fully-laden Watchorn truck on the weigh­bridge with a load of pulp for the Norske pulp and pa­per mill.

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