Forest Growers Newsletter – August 2020

Greetings from Russell Dale

With the Covid19 lockdown and restrictions largely behind us, for now at least, the Forest Growers Research team – that is Veronica Bennett, Keith Raymond, Marco Lausberg, Russell Burton and I, are back in our office in the PF Olsen Building, Sala Street, Rotorua.  

We are, however, limiting travel and larger meetings to minimise risks and reduce travel costs as everyone has been impacted financially by the impacts of Covid19. We are using Zoom for all of our Forest Research Committee, technical steering team and programme steering group meetings. These meetings are working well although participants are still keen to schedule face-to-face meetings occasionally.

The full effects of Covid19 on the world economy are yet to be seen but along with the climate-change induced forest decline in Europe and the resultant surge of logs and timber into our traditional markets, we can expect significant impacts and uncertainty for the forest industry for some time to come.

This in turn creates uncertainty in terms of the levy income stream that supports our research programmes: however, the Forest Growers Levy Trust is committed to supporting existing research programmes this year through use of reserves and potentially short-term borrowing.

Work is now starting on developing the 2021 work programme with final decisions being made on this by early December 2020.

We hope you enjoy our latest newsletter.

Programme progress and Covid-19 impact

A number of our research programmes have been significantly affected by Covid19. Laboratory, engineering, and field work are examples of work that could not be carried out during the Level 4 and Level 3 restrictions. We have been unable to welcome several overseas experts who were due to contribute to our research; also the arrival of number of new international staff has been delayed.  The full impact was apparent when we completed our June 2020 assessments and found significant carry forward of funding into the second half of 2020 as a result of all the things that have had to be postponed or cancelled.

Forest Growers Research Conference 2020

Tuesday, 13th October and Wednesday, 14th October 2020 – a virtual event

We have reluctantly decided to cancel the Nelson conference, which was scheduled for October 13-14. The combination of possible further restrictions on travel, many organisations’ reluctance to let staff travel and attend large gatherings, and the financial costs of running and attending a major conference all contributed to this decision.

Instead we will run a virtual webinar-based event over the same time two-day period. We are working on a programme with our research providers and will be advising you about what is planned soon. Whilst we know people enjoy the personal interactions at conferences, one benefit of a virtual event is that more of our industry stakeholders will be able to participate.

MBIE Endeavour fund – update on applications

MBIE have made some changes to their contestable funding programmes as a result of Covid19. The Endeavour fund will continue, but the Smart Ideas fund has been put on hold.

The Forest Research Committee supported three Endeavour fund applications this year:

  • Sustainable Vegetation Management – Scion
  • Understanding the Radiata Pine Microbiome – Scion
  • Erosion Risk Assessment – Landcare Research-Manaaki Whenua.

The Radiata Pine Microbiome and Sustainable Vegetation Management proposals were both successful in the science quality assessment and will now go through to the second stage assessment. Outcomes will be known by early September and if successful, research will begin in earnest in October.

The Erosion Risk Assessment was not successful and the Landcare Research team has decided not to pursue this proposal further with MBIE.

Changes to MBIE funding policies that encourage very aspirational, ‘stretchy’ and high-tech research are making it increasingly difficult for the forestry sector to secure funding from this source for forest growing research. The Government’s view is that mature industries, like forestry and agriculture, should be funding a much higher proportion of research than they are currently.  We have to accept that, in future, the sector will need to consider different research funding models.

(Note that, assuming a net average stumpage of $40.00 per m3 on a harvest of 34 million m3 in 2019, the industry cash contribution to research and development of approximately $10 million is around 0.7% of net revenue, while Government targets for industry investment in research are closer to 3-4%. )

Resilient Forests

Building on the successful Growing Confidence in Forestry’s Future (GCFF) and Healthy Trees Healthy Forests programmes, the Resilient Forests transitional programme is maintaining momentum in some key areas of research whilst we move to a series of new projects that will be collectively make up a longer-term Resilient Forests programme.

The focus here is on finding ways to improve the resilience of our core commercial forest asset to risks arising from climate change, political and market volatility, and broader social changes. The programme has several components including:

  • risk analysis
  • ensuring a social licence to operate
  • beginning to understand the role of the microbiome (defined as ‘all the microorganisms associated with radiata pine, and their interactions within their environment’)
  • balanced nutrition and the use of hyperspectral imagery for nutrient management
  • developing techniques for high volume, low cost, soil and foliar analysis
  • developing the next generation of growth models
  • further developing forest phenotyping methods for wider use
  • better predicting the impact of needle diseases from individual tree to forest estate level.

Contact: Dr Peter Clinton at Scion is leading the Resilient Forests work.

Specialty Wood Products regional forest and wood product strategies

Following a mid-term review of the Specialty Wood Products Research Partnership (SWP), managed by Marco Lausberg, we agreed with MBIE that we would develop four regional forest and wood product investment strategies by the end of the SWP programme in mid-2022.

One in the durable hardwoods area is well advanced (see NZDFI Strategy 2020-2030), the second on Douglas-fir manufacturing opportunities, with a focus on the Otago/Southland area, has commenced, and work has also started on a strategy for cypress forestry. A fourth is currently being considered – options include (i) adding value to the Eucalypytus nitens resource in Southland or (ii) the establishment of a specialty timbers industry based on an organised and coordinated network of wood processing using portable sawmills.

SWP are also contributing to a pilot study in the Hawke’s Bay Region, the aim of which is to develop a methodology for conducting an accurate inventory of specialty species. If successful, the intention is to extend the inventory to cover the whole of New Zealand.

Thermal modification of Douglas-fir and cypress timbers shows promise

SWP research into modifying cypress and Douglas-fir timber using heat treatment to improve durability is showing promising results. Heat-treated samples are currently being tested for durability in fungal cellar tests against an H3 treated radiata standard and are showing very promising results compared to untreated timber.

If the technique proves successful, heat treatment will enable cypress and Douglas-fir timbers to be used in external above-ground applications with a high degree of confidence in their performance and open up new market opportunities for these timbers.

Above: Douglas-fir – unmodified (left) and modified (right) by heat treatment.

Above: C. lusitanica – unmodified and modified by heat treatment. Tests to date have shown thermal modification results in increased durability in both sapwood and heartwood, and better dimensional stability.

Supporting alternatives to radiata pine:

a new industry group to strengthen New Zealand’s specialty timbers sector

A new initiative is underway to create an industry entity for people working in New Zealand’s specialty timber industry.

Exotic specialty species, including cypresses, eucalypts, redwoods, poplar and Tasmanian blackwood, are estimated to cover around 67,000 hectares, and are a potentially highly valuable regional resource. These species are generally milled by small-scale sawmillers, who form a critical link in the specialty species value chain. Currently these people all work independently, but are known to be milling timber worth hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.

A working group, comprising several sawmillers and others working in the specialty timbers sector, has been formed, supported by SWP and Forest Growers Research. The working group believes an industry entity could provide leadership, strengthen links in the value chain, attract and train new entrants, upskill existing practitioners, and develop branding and collaborative marketing that will increase the value and sales of specialty timbers.

The working group has produced a discussion document: A proposal to develop New Zealand’s alternative timbers industry.

A survey of the sector has also been launched, targeted primarily at small-scale sawmillers. The survey, which runs until mid August, aims to discover more about the activities of the sector, and gauge the level of likely support for an industry association. If enough positive responses are received, the next step will be to set up a steering group to lead the formation of the new association.

Alternatives to radiata pine 2

Automated log tagging project

An exciting new log tracking project is getting underway within the Automation and Robotics programme, led by Dr Glen Murphy. The project, which is based on Swedish technology, aims to replace paper log tags with a unique punch code that will enable log identification and tracking from the time log is made in the forest to the time it is delivered to the customer. The branding will eliminate the cost of branding logs with paint, and the cost of attaching log tags to export logs. It will also mean log measurement and other attribute data will be captured only once, eliminating the duplication that currently occurs in the forest-to-customer supply chain.

New Zealand technology companies are partnering with a Swedish company to further develop and  commercialise the technology here in New Zealand. Glen Murphy is also putting together a project team which includes forestry companies, wood processors and port logistics companies, all of whom could adopt the new technology.

The plan is to have built an ‘alpha’ prototype log marker suitable for a NZ processor head and “alpha” prototype tag readers built by June 2021. This will be followed by testing of the alpha prototypes, and development of beta prototypes up to the end of 2022.  Field demonstrations, commercialisation and deployment of the technology will then begin, with a project completion date before the end of 2025.

Contact: Keith Raymond for more information about the work of the FGR Automation and Robotics programme.

Photo: An example of the log marking (which is about the size of a credit card).

21st Century Tissue Culture

The radiata pine growing industry has made substantial progress over several decades in breeding of this species to improve its rate of growth, its form, the quality of the wood and its resilience. However, it is still taking over 20 years to deploy a new radiata pine genotype into commercial application.

Reducing deployment time is the objective of a new programme being supported by the industry through levy funding ($600,000 per annum) and matched by investment from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment ($400,000 per annum) and from the Scion Strategic Science Investment Fund ($200,000 per annum).

This programme aims to get deployment time down to about 9 years using a tissue culture approach with the potential to produce large quantities of varietals opening up the opportunity to expand multi varietal forestry – that is using tested high-performing tree varieties in plantations very cost effective.

The current approach is very labour-intensive and the aim is that a tree with proven ability to perform on a given site and for a specific purpose can be rapidly duplicated and deployed.

The programme is now one year old and is at the point where Scion with our partners at Georgia Institute of Technology in the  USA are installing a bioreactor suite and the robotics and systems to develop that propagation factory for radiata pine. We have estimated that it will take another 6 years to have the system ready for commercial application in New Zealand.

The full report can be read as a PDF on the FGR website.

For further information contact Dr Russell Burton

Joint project with Radiata Pine Breeding Company to assess genetic improvement

A joint project to assess genetic improvement and to gather data suitable for growth modelling purposes is proceeding well with the Radiata Pine Breeding Company (RPBC). The project was initiated with RPBC in the Future Forests Research days, due to the lack of good data on the performance of the latest breeds for growth modelling and forest valuation purposes.

The agreement between FFR and RPBC was that RPBC would establish large plot field trials of their latest genetic material. Sixteen trials have been planted between 2010 and 2016, spread from Northland to Otago with 11 in North Island and 5 in South Island.

Once the trials have been pruned and thinned, Forest Growers Research, with the support of Forest Grower Levy Trust funding, will install permanent sample plots and measure these. Data will be added to the Scion PSP database where it will be available for growth modelling.

Producing low-coning and sterile Douglas-fir for wilding control

The Winning with Wildings programme, led by Landcare Research, has a focus on detection and control of wildings but the area of greatest interest for forest growers is the work at Scion to develop low coning or sterile Douglas-fir varieties.

The former involves breeding and propagating from low seeding genotypes identified in Ernslaw One’s Otago seed orchards. The sterility work involves developing gene editing techniques, and Douglas-fir trees have now been produced which are believed to be sterile. The trees are in controlled laboratories, and the challenge now is to confirm sterility but this requires approval for a controlled field trial from the Environmental Protection Authority. Under current legislation in New Zealand this is very difficult. Perhaps overseas testing of this material is the only option?

Trichoderma inoculation shows promise and industry uptake

Work on the inoculation of radiata pine seedlings with Trichoderma fungal species, led by Dr Helen Whelan at Lincoln University’s Bio-Protection Research Centre, is showing promising results, and a number of nurseries are now incorporating Trichoderma into their seed and cuttings management.

Results from field trials established 2-7 years ago across a range of forest sites are showing growth and forest health benefits. Forest trial work is being extended into regions south of Nelson to determine the potential benefits of Trichoderma in cooler locations.

In addition, initial trials of treated Douglas-fir and cypress are also looking positive. NZ Farm Forestry Association members are hosting around 40 small trials of cypress species treated with Trichoderma and will be assisting with assessment of these trials.

A full progress report is available: Bioprotection for foliar diseases and disorders of radiata pine

Images: (first slide) Shannon Rutherford (OneFortyOne) measuring tree height in Sherry trial (Golden Down Forest) near Nelson, July 2020, and (second slide) Berrymans trial, July 2020. Golden Down Forest

Extreme fire research

Scion’s Rural Fire Group carried out a number of experimental burns in wheat stubble paddocks in 2019, and a major activity this year was organising a series of controlled fires in the Rakaia Gorge involving highly flammable gorse vegetation.

The burns took place in March with extensive support from US fire researchers and local FENZ and DOC rural firefighters, and were very successful. The fires enabled a range of new sensors and technology to be tested and provided valuable data that will be used to improve fire spread prediction models for gorse and other vegetation types.

These latest gorse burns also provided further validation of the new theory on the importance of convective heat transfer in wildfire spread. A final series of experimental burns in heavier wilding pine vegetation are planned in the Mackenzie country in 2021 but these may be delayed if US fire researchers are unable to travel to New Zealand.

Lots more information and dramatic photos at the following links:

Plus the Rural Fire Group’s web blogs:

Plus videos – there is now a Scion Rural Fire Research Youtube video channel which contains a number of videos from the recent gorse and previous stubble burn experiments burns.   Fire Research videos

Integration of forestry into dairy and hill country sheep and beef farming for profitable and sustainable land use

FGR are participating in a MPI Sustainable Food and Fibre Fund project along with Dairy NZ, NZ Beef and Lamb, the NZ Farm Forestry Association and iwi land owners. The project is being managed by Perrin Ag, a Rotorua-based agricultural consultancy.

Farmers are having to re-evaluate their farm businesses and farming systems due to increasingly stringent requirements on nutrients, water and greenhouse gas emissions as well as market pressures for ‘clean’ food.

The project aims to provide land owners, iwi and rural professionals with the information they need to help landowners make well informed forestry enterprise decisions and increase their confidence in implementing forestry as a land use option.

The project involves farmer surveys, a diverse range of case studies and extension activities, and appears very pertinent in the current climate.

For any further information please contact:

Russell Dale – FGR R&D Manager

Keith Raymond – Harvesting & Logistics

Marco Lausberg – Specialty Wood Products

Russell Burton – Tissue Culture

Veronica Bennett – Administration