Forest Growers Newsletter – October 2020

Welcome to new Research & Development Director

Many of you will be aware that I have been planning for a while to step back from the role of Research and Development Manager.  The time has come for me to do this. 

I have been in this position since the Forest Growers Levy was introduced in 2014; before that I was involved in the establishment of Future Forests Research in 2008 and led that organisation until we evolved into Forest Growers Research in 2014.

It has been a privilege to lead the forest industry’s investment in research and development over this time, and to help reinforce the critical role research and development plays in our industry. The industry we are all part of today has been built on previous research funded by government and the forestry sector.  Research will continue to play a pivotal role in the future as the industry responds to climate change, and changes in society’s attitudes, biological threats and global markets.

A highlight has been the significant improvement we have achieved in industry engagement and involvement in the research programmes.  This extends across the value chain from tree breeding, biotechnology, forest management and protection through to automation and robotics in the harvesting supply chain. Across the various boards, steering groups and technical committees we have around 50 people, from chief executives to technical foresters, all of whom are heavily involved in the management and guidance of research programmes, and exposed to the outputs of the research. This engagement is proving to be a key factor in industry uptake of research.

Our recent work to develop a strategic science and innovation strategy that aligns with the industry’s vision and roadmap has been another important step. The strategy will help ensure that investments in science and innovation are well targeted and the industry continues to move forward towards its longer-term vision.

The highlights of the research programmes over the years have been well presented and reported in our annual conferences and annual reports and are far too numerous to cover here. Collectively we can see significant progress in areas such as remote sensing, steep land harvesting and mechanisation, alternative species, productivity improvemen

ts, forest health, and fire management – progress which has come about thanks to partnerships between the research sector and industry. Just as in the past research has transformed our industry, I have no doubt that the work being done today is laying the foundations for future transformation.

I am pleased to be able to hand over the baton to Bart Challis, who takes over the role this week. Bart comes to Forest Growers Research from his previous role as Chief Operating Officer at Scion.  He has a strong science and commercial background in biological sciences in Europe and North America as well as here in New Zealand.  I have got to know Bart well over the last two years in his role at Scion and I can confidently say that the industry is extremely fortunate to have someone of Bart’s calibre coming into this important industry leadership position.

Forest Growers Research Conference 2020

Our 2020 conference has been well publicised. Due to COVID19 restrictions and their wider impact we made the decision to run the conference as a virtual event this year. There will be a wide range of presentations covering current research on all aspects of the forestry value chain from genetics to mechanisation in harvesting. Dates are 12th – 14th October: presentations include some practical demonstrations of tools; also some presentations focusing on specialty species that will be of particular interest to smaller forest growers. It is not too late to register for this free event. Details of the programme and registration here

New Government Funding for Industry Research

In early September MBIE announced the final outcome of the 2020 Endeavour Fund contestable funding round.

I am pleased to report that a project which will focus on understanding the radiata pine microbiome and its importance on tree health and vitality has been funded. Understanding the human microbiome is a big area of research endeavour but relatively little has been done in the forestry area so we are very pleased this was approved. We have long been aware of the beneficial role mycorrhizae play in tree growth and more recently we have commenced work to look at the benefit other soil fungi such as trichodermas play in tree health and vigour. However a comprehensive examination of all of microorganisms associated with radiata pine, above and below ground, and their interactions, will provide valuable new insights.

The Forest Growers Levy Trust (FGLT) is providing funding support for this project. The total value of Government funding over 5 years is $13.5million; FGLT will contribute $ 0.3m annually.

Unfortunately a very good project on sustainable weed management, which had a strong end-user support, was not successful. This is disappointing as we know that the issues of weed management and herbicide usage are ongoing challenges.

Of the 128 applications only 17 (13%) were successful. Of the 17 successful applications only 2 were awarded to CRI’s in the primary sector – one to Scion and one to Plant and Food. This is sending a clear message that the CRI primary sector research is not a priority for MBIE contestable research funding and that we will need to pursue other funding models.

Research Programme: 2021 and Beyond

Work is well underway on developing the 2021 research work programme.

The Forest Growers Levy Trust has indicated a high-level allocation of funding for research and the Forest Research Committee are in the process of evaluating a number of proposals to determine which can be funded.

Because of the impact of COVID19 on world markets, the harvest volume is down compared to 2019 and this impacts on the levy funding available for research. The Forest Growers Levy Trust have also taken a conservative approach to forecasting their income for 2021 in light of the uncertainties from COVID19 and the amount of beetle-damaged spruce forest in Europe coming onto world markets. Unfortunately the funding requested exceeds the indicated funding available in 2021 so we will not be able to support a number of very worthy projects.

The Forest Research Committee have adopted a more comprehensive evaluation methodology this year, and are assessing projects against the strategic goals set out in the Forest Growers Association Roadmap and the Science and Innovation Strategy. The final decisions on the 2021 research programme will be made by the FGLT in early December.