NZ’s Radiata 90% Risk: Tree Diversity Unlocks $2B Potential

Reducing the country's reliance on radiata pine, and investing in Douglas Fir, could reduce the country's $400m reliance on imported timbers and reboot local manufacturing

Thu 14 Mar 24


New Zealand has one of the world’s most extensive and productive forest plantation industries. Still, its overreliance on radiata pine—which now makes up more than 90% of its on-farm forests—is a significant risk.

That is, according to Neil Cullen, the President of the New Zealand Farm Forestry Association, who adds that farmers should consider all options, with Douglas Fir making up just 5% of New Zealand’s farm forestry stock.

He said that planting alternative species, from ecological benefits to income diversity, planting forest blocks made up of alternative species can be “a win, win, win” for farmers.

“We have quite a lot of specialist knowledge, and we carry out research,” Mr Cullen said, adding that the association “has action groups each focused on specific alternative species.”

Mr Cullen, who spoke to the NZ-based Stuff publication before a field trip supported by Te Uru Rākau – NZ Forest Service, said educating architects, engineers, and builders is critical.

Radiata pine is one of the New Zealand’s great success stories – today, it has one of the most extensive and productive plantation industries in the world.

Radiata pine, considered the prince of pines, has become New Zealand’s great timber tree. It covers 1.3 million hectares and forms the basis of a billion-dollar-a-year export industry. 

However, overreliance on one species could prove disastrous – especially given that 60% of the country’s logs are exported unprocessed, with Mr Cullen pointing to the “disastrous” consequences from a biosecurity risk and a more general market risk.

This risk has led the NZ government, through the Forestry and Wood Processing Industry Transformation Plan, to set a goal of increasing alternative species planting to 20% by 2030. 

According to NZ Dryland Forests Innovation, the push to unlock alternative commercial species potentially unlocks a new NZ $2 billion green economy – with a new mix of timbers replacing a position of the NZ $400 million timber imported into the country every year.

“Species like poplar were already being used to stabilise hillsides,” Mr Cullen said, adding that when widely spaced, “farmers could still get grazing underneath and claim credits under the emissions trading scheme.”

“It’s a win, win, win really, a species like that.”

He said the association strongly advocates for “right tree, right place” and encourages farmers to plant forests on their least productive land.

“It’s going to improve viability in the long term,” Mr Cullen said, adding that new forest establishment offered great returns through the ETS and as a return on the harvest.

“It was also good for succession planning,” he said, adding that “forest lots could be sold to buy a house when farmers were ready to pass on the farm with lower debt.”

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In his inaugural lecture at the University of Auckland, Dr Anthony Hōete – a past NZ Institute of Architecture winner – called for greater investment in expanding the country’s species and wood production to better supply the country’s building and construction industry. (Photo Credit: The University of Auckland)

The push to establish new species comes after former New Zealand Climate Minister James Shaw warned that the country was “running out of time” to meet its climate commitments and needed to plant 700,000 hectares of exotic and native tree species “right now.”

Then, Minister Shaw stated that the county wanted to plant 300,000 hectares of permanent indigenous forest and 380,000 hectares of exotic plantation forests.

The Te Uru Rākau-supported field days, starting today, recognise the importance of a diverse forest estate in meeting the country’s climate change targets and resilience, according to Te Uru Rākau forestry engagement and advice director Alex Wilson.

“A diverse forest estate provides a range of resources for our nation’s supply of wood products onshore and for export,” Mr Wilson said.

“Our forests are a vast resource that could produce more value for New Zealand through the growth of high-value timber products, which would bring new opportunities, products, and markets for New Zealand.”

The field days will be held in Balclutha on March 14, Greymouth on March 16, Gisborne on March 21, Whanganui on March 21, Waikanae on March 21, Bulls on March 23, Rangiora on March 23, Winton on March 23, Taupo on March 24, Te Puke on March 27, Masterton on March 28, Otorohanga on May 5, and Kerikeri on June 1.

More details about the field days are available on the NZ Farm Forestry website.


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