July 29, 2007

Northland Totara Working Group Field Day

Filed under: Forestneeds_Notices,Forestry Research,Timber Growing,Trees — shem kerr @ 6:00 am

Remnants of totara gate and fence

Held at A. Crawford property. Cook Rd. Okaihau on Saturday, 31 March 2007

The 2nd of a 3 part seminar on issues with managing totara. The 1st part being heads talking to powerpoint presentations; an hour or 2 of bums on seats,  4 different days, 4 locations: could’ve been 10 minutes tacked onto the front end of the 3rd part and saved a lot of time and money.

The field day was the most useful of the three.

The field day attendees included bureaucrats, lifestylers, contractors, and pastural farmers. At times the researchers findings or views weren’t just questioned, but downright rejected. Points of contention included: desirable pruning heights; the timing of pruning or production thinning; the role of borer in downgrade; and nutrient application.

From early times of human occupation of New Zealand, totara wood has been utilised because of it’s ease of workability, high durability, stability, fine finish,relatively light weight, along with straight knot-free stems. Those features that gave it desirability, plus a government low price policy, led to overcutting, leaving only remnants of old growth (durable) totara and collapse of the market. Insufficient effort was put into researching and managing the growing of totara (or other indigenous timber species) in sustainable forestry regimes or in plantations to enable continuity of supply. Instead, Pinus radiata, was selected for fast grown non-durable sapwood production in clear felled regimes treated as a mediocre commodity wood or fibre source.

Regenerating totara forest View under young totara regeneration

Since the removal of government subsidies on agricultural production, large areas of marginal farmland in Northland have reverted to scrub and then through to young forest. Fortunately for totara it is a pioneer species that is quite tolerant as to site, and can better thwart browsing than can most New Zealand native trees. A large proportion of this reversion has been to totara dominated forest, creating the potential for a significant new timber resource.

Pruned and thinned tight stand of totara Branchy habit of totara Tightly grown totara of similar age Northland Totara Working Group field day discussion Old growth totara stand

The Working Group was established “to support and promote research and technology transfer in the productive management of totara”. this could cynically be translated into: “as researchers, we should be milking this for as much funding as we can get away with; this is another opportunity to reinvent the wheel.”

At times the day got bogged down in discussion of what amounted to uneconomic harvesting activity. The group doesnt seem to have a grasp on the matter. Who is harvesting this knotty sap farm-crop totara? It appears that at present it is for the most part craftspeople unofficially ‘salvaging’ open grown paddock logs felled to be burned. Research indicates that on fertile sites, totara can put on annual trunk diametre growth incruement of around 10 mm; and that in trees less than 100 years old there is very little durable heartwood. There is no way that this could be and economically viable crop given competing product prices. However, Randal Austen found that a single application of superphosphate fertilizer (untargeted as to matching nutrient needs) gave faster growth rates, twice that, and continuing over at least a seven year period. With fine tuning of nutrient additions, growth rates might match similarly durable exotic timber species. The second part we might work on is shortening the time to produce significant amounts of durable heartwood. Together these two may still not add up economically.

Other factors such as soil and water conservation forestry may help make active management of totara economically sensible. Against this, totara tends to have a fairly shallow root system and might be of minimal value here.

The group has $nz265,000 in funding to demonstrate thinning and quantify the resource; to evaluate the wood quality; and to compare growth rates, stand productivity and wood quality of extracted thinnings of naturally-regenerating stands with plantation totara However.these activities of themselves wont encourage land owners to undertake ‘management (that) is required to maximise the production from these stands’. What is missing is how the land stacks up; as well as infrastructure concerns.


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