Developing a new supply chain for any forestry species is a long-term and complex undertaking, involving significant up-front investment in breeding, research and development, and many other sectors beyond this.

New Zealand's existing hardwood supply chain

New Zealand's existing hardwood supply chain largely comprises imported timber. A recent Import Substitution report highlights the plethora of countries from which timber and timber products come into New Zealand. Durable hardwoods are imported from Australia, many tropical countries, Europe and the USA. Importers supply 'big barn' timber and furniture suppliers and timber merchants. Timber merchants may stock small quantities of New Zealand grown hardwoods, most commonly silver beech from sustainably managed forests in Southland. Small quantities of New Zealand-grown eucalypts such as E. regnans and E. pilularis may be available for markets such as flooring.

Durable eucalypts - a new hardwood supply chain for the 21st century

New Zealanders have been using eucalypt wood imported from Australia since the early settlers arrived here. The Treaty House at Waitangi is built from imported eucalypt wood.  Needless to say, Australians have been using their natural eucalypt resource for all types of applications for centuries.  The first durable eucalypt trees in New Zealand were planted by early settlers, impressed by their proven performance in Australia. So durable eucalypts are not entirely new to New Zealand; some species have been grown on a small scale and milled for on-farm use or small-volume markets since the days of the early settlers.

But NZDFI's programme is the first concerted attempt to breed and supply improved durable eucalypts on a commercial scale. At the same time, NZDFI is undertaking integrated wood quality research so that growers can be confident that the trees they plant will be 'fit for purpose' in whatever the target market - vineyard posts and and poles, outdoor joinery, power-pole cross arms, engineered wood products and the many other potential markets these trees could be suitable for (and have been used for, for decades, in Australia).

What does a durable eucalypt supply chain look like?

Developing regional sustainable hardwood supply chains based on New Zealand-grown durable eucalypts is the lynch-pin of NZDFI's vision and operations, but this is no small undertaking.

Main elements of a durable eucalypt supply chain proposed in a Marlborough regional case study.

Other alternative species supply chains in New Zealand

In New Zealand there are established supply chains for radiata pine and Douglas-fir. Both these species have had the benefit of government/industry breeding programmes, and have a well-worn passage from the forest either through domestic sawmills and into the New Zealand market or to the nearest port where they are exported as logs.

Cypresses (C. macrocarpa, C. lusitanica and Ch. ovensii) have benefitted from some genetic improvement in New Zealand, and in some regions small volumes are readily saleable to domestic mills who produce interior joinery products and exterior above ground products for e.g. decking. Export markets are also available for C. macrocarpa logs and lumber.

Non-durable eucalypts including E. nitens, E.regnans and E. fastigata also have been subject to some limited breeding work in New Zealand. The majority of these trees are destined for chipping either for domestic or overseas pulp and paper markets. The most common (but minor) high-value use of non-durable eucalypts is for indoor flooring. A range of durable and non-durable eucalypt species have been grown over the last 100 years in New Zealand. The area of durable eucalypt species, and eucalypts grown for flooring and other high-value markets, in New Zealand is unknown, and comprises widely scattered small-scale plantings of various species and ages. Some smaller sawmills do process small volumes of eucalypts for high-value end uses.

Coastal redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) is an increasingly popular alternative species for New Zealand growers and has been planted sporadically on a small scale for many decades. Some early breeding work has been undertaken and while there has been no specific investment in redwood processing and marketing, small volumes are processed domestically. The timber is used for e.g. cladding, interior joinery, and garden landscaping.

There has been no sustained supply chain developed for any other alternative species in New Zealand. Where alternative species are grown and utilised, they are more-or-less genetically unimproved, and grown on a small scale, often by farm foresters, for niche markets. When harvested, trees are likely either to be processed by mobile sawmillers on-site, or transported to the nearest permanent small-scale sawmiller with the capability to process them. These sawmillers are few and far between.