THE DECISION BY SEVERAL LARGE CORPORATE FOREST OWNERS to stop pruning trees over the last few years may well return to bite us all in the future. A future that could come around sooner than we think.
This fact was brought home after listening to a presentation made by forestry consultant, Jeff Tombleson, to the 2018 DANA Forestry Conference in Rotorua last month (see page 10).
Figures presented by Jeff indicate that we are much closer to the peak of the Wall of Wood than previously thought, especially so in the central North Island, where there is considerable demand for clear wood.
He calculates that by the end of 2020, the availability of pruned logs could fall by 50% in that region compared to 2017 levels. And by 2037, just 15% of the logs harvested will be pruned.
Those figures are very worrying for the 12 mills in the central North Island that rely on pruned logs to make higher value clear wood products. They don’t want wood with lots of knots that could compromise the strength and value of their products and their customers won’t accept finger-jointed timber as a substitute (unless it’s going to be painted).
I can see why the large forest growers have gone away from pruning.
They require a $60-to-70 premium over the best non-pruned logs to continue pruning their estates and only once in the last 20 years has that been achieved. In other words, it’s costing them money.
So why don’t the mills just cough up the extra? Mill owners argue they’re already paying the international market price and the market obviously doesn’t value pruned logs as highly. To pay more than others would make their products uncompetitive. It’s Catch 22.
Some pruning will continue among smaller forest owners and in plantations owned by mills that process clears, but it’s looking like unpruned trees will dominate in future.
That’s a great shame, because it reduces the options to attract further processing of logs that this industry is so desperate to make happen within New Zealand.
Effectively, if we are to see any new mills established in the future they will either have to produce industrial lumber or boards.
Further down the track our scientists may be able to breed trees that have fewer and smaller branches that don’t need pruning, yet still produce clear wood. However, that’s well into the future and it won’t save most of the 12 sawmills facing shortages now.
Clearly a case of one part of forestry out of step with the other.