Take Pinus radiata: a very minor species of inferior wood qualities, mediocre tree architecture for milling, and no market history. Why grow Radiata instead of, say, Black Walnut, Stringybark, or Redwood, when it doesn’t have the beauty, the strength or the durability of these more glamorous timbers? Because it grows vigorously where other trees struggle. It is reasonably undemanding as to nutrients, wind exposure. and frost; and it’s easy to grow, easy to tend. At the end of the day it has been proven (as yet) to grow more profitably over a wider range of conditions in NZ than other species. One could find another tree for nutrient poor sites, or frosty sites, but basically it’s trees from the Pinaceae that end up doing the hard row; and in New Zealand that’s radiata. If there’s anything other than grower ignorance that will work against establishing alternative species in NZ, then it’s wind, wind and more wind. I doubt that I’ll be writing much about radiata anywhere in the near future, so let’s give radiata its fifteen minutes of fame.
What is it that gets environmentalists so upset about Radiata?
Decades pass before the non-durable sapwood becomes durable heartwood. Resin gives some protection against decay. The longer the wood stays in a living tree the more resinous the wood gets, and the more resistant to to decay. While some “old man pine” is milled for fence posts, this wood is probably better used out of the ground and even with some degree of protection from the weather. Bill Honor of Huirangi is one person I know who more than 50 years ago built his house out of untreated old man pine; that is except for the sub floor bearers, for which he used Eucalyptus pilularis. I went past his house a couple of months ago, and it was still sound. Typically, old man pine is from trees over 60 years to 100 years old. tThe oldest wood doesn’t take paint all that well, and in extreme cases may even continuously and inconveniently weep sticky resin.
Stronger and more durable wood can be grown by other species in half the time. The economics of old man pine may only be as a byproduct of shelterbelts.
The vast magority of Radiata grown in Chile, South Africa, Spain, Australia and New Zealand is for a sapwood rotation of around 30 years or even less. This crop is from ‘remodelled’ breeds with faster growth, improved stem straightness, more convenient branching characteristics, greater disease resistance, and better fibre quality or stronger wood. This crop has little natural resistance to rot. Because of this, it even has only about 6 weeks from felling until it must be processed. Basically, it is just industrial feedstock that can be either chipped, pulped, milled and fingerjointed, or milled into solid timber depending on suitability or market demand.
Is this an industry in which a small grower can be involved? That depends on how small you are. Start at a minimum of 1000 cubic metres per harvest grossing on average NZ$90?/m3, or up to NZ$140/m3 for the best grades. Typical yields are around 600 m3/hectare – with about 200m3 of this as clear pruned butt logs.
The photos are of: a sawmill processind radiata; some reject logs; freshly harvested hillsides; rutted hill cable hauler harvested.
This series shows typical form of Pinus radiata; skidder logging; mud; skid site.