A burgeoning market exists for eucalyptus timber, and Hawke's Bay is a prime place to grow it, says Paul Millen, project manager for the New Zealand Dryland Forests Initiative (NZDFI).
Speaking at a recent field day for potential growers, Millen said that despite strong demand for eucalyptus, not enough is available.
"It is an indictment on this country that we cannot supply sleepers to KiwiRail," he said.
Seven thousand of 100,000 imported wooden sleepers have had to be replaced recently because they were rotting, at a cost of millions of dollars. Many of the sleepers in storage were infected with a disease new to New Zealand.
The field day, organised by the Hawke's Bay branch of the New Zealand Farm Foresters Association, started at Longridge Farm in Patoka, where stands of three species of eucalyptus Kevin Thompson planted in the 1980s were inspected and admired.
"So far, I've found there is more value from firewood than any other outlet - that's what I want to be proved wrong on today," Thompson said.
The field day brought an unprecedented number of hardwood-timber experts to Hawke's Bay, a region whose climate and fertile soils are identified as ideal for eucalyptus.
But with more than 700 varieties, eucalypts are highly evolved.
"It is extremely site specific," NZ Dryland Forests Initiative scientist Ian Nicholas said.
But, in the right place, the right tree could easily outperform pinus radiata, a species he said New Zealand is fixated on, though it is unsuitable for uses such as power poles and railway sleepers.
Research is being done to improve species identified as suitable for tree farming, with density "not necessarily" connected to slow growth.
"Many people say fast growing means high density - codswallop - not with eucalyptus," Nicholas said.
"We are getting a lot of breeding gains with heartwood."
Although foresters admire straight timber of good size, he said, "we ignore wood properties at our peril".
A felled tree split down its length was inspected, showing good grain, colour and hardness.
At Patoka Hall, Millen said there are many potential uses for eucalyptus, with poles for horticulture one of the most obvious because they naturally do not rot in the ground, are stronger and chemical-free.
"Treated poles get knocked over by harvesters. There are piles of them all over the place - hazardous waste."
About 70 per cent of vineyards claim sustainable practices, he said.
"I thought I could make a lot of money supplying them [eucalyptus poles] but, sadly, there is no resource."
In Australia, eucalyptus poles have been commonplace in vineyards but the supply of eucalyptus in Australia has fallen because of bans on native logging, while demand rose, Millen said.
"What has been going on in our West Coast is really starting to bite in Australia."
He said Australia does not have the forest-plantation experience that New Zealand does.
"They are used to just going out there and getting it."
He said infrastructural timber had even greater potential because it is not subject to market swings, and contracts are long term.
"I could take you down to Napier Port and very quickly show you hardwood imported from Australia.
"The majority of wood on the Wellington waterfront is imported from Australia."
Marlborough Lines, a sponsor of the New Zealand Dryland Forests Initiative, is growing its own eucalyptus for power poles.
Millen said coastal Central Hawke's Bay has "exciting" potential "but there are no forests there whatsoever".
Nicholas said eucalyptus in Hawke's Bay industry is not a new idea, as evidenced by the many stands.
"You've done it before but, unfortunately, they didn't have the durable species," he said.