NZ barking up wrong tree?

By PATRICK O'SULLIVAN


A burgeoning market exists for eucalyptus timber, with Hawke's Bay a prime place to grow it, says Paul Millen, project manager for the New Zealand Dryland Forests Initiative (NZDFI).

Speaking at a field day for potential growers on Saturday, Mr Millen said that despite strong demand for eucalyptus, suitable supply had been lacking.

"It is an indictment on this country that we cannot supply sleepers to KiwiRail," he said.

Seven thousand of 100,000 imported wooden sleepers had been required to be replaced 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 planted by Kevin Thompson 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," he said.

The field day brought an unprecedented number of hardwood-timber experts to Hawke's Bay, a region identified as ideal for eucalyptus due to fertile soils and climate.

But with over 700 varieties it was 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 was fixated on, though it was unsuitable for uses such as power poles and railway sleepers.

Research was 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.

"We are getting a lot of breeding gains with heartwood."

While foresters admired 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, Mr Millen said there were many potential uses for eucalyptus, with poles for horticulture one of the most obvious because they naturally did not rot in the ground, were 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 claimed 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 had been commonplace in vineyards but the supply of eucalyptus in Australia had fallen due to bans on native logging, while demand rose, Mr Millen said.

"What has been going on in our West Coast is really starting to bite in Australia."

He said Australia did not have the forest-plantation experience that New Zealand did.

"They are used to just going out there and getting it."

He said infrastructural timber had even greater potential because it was not subject to market swings and contracts were 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, was growing its own eucalyptus for power poles.

Mr Millen said coastal Central Hawke's Bay had "exciting" potential "but there are no forests there whatsoever".

Dr Nicholas said eucalyptus in Hawke's Bay industry was 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.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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