A rise in the number of timber tree seedlings being produced indicates a recent decline in plantation forest replanting may be reversing.
A Ministry of Primary Industries survey of all 28 commercial forest nurseries in New Zealand shows stock sales last year for planting this year were 52.2 million seedlings, compared with 49.5 million the year before.
Forest Owners Association chief executive David Rhodes says the increase in seedling sales is a positive sign the industry is gearing up for increased production, even if the trees planted now will not be harvested for about another 30 years.
“Improved log prices over the past year will be one factor,” he says. “Another is the carbon credit value for planting trees under the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) is increasing, now we don’t have those bogus Eastern European credits in the market.
“One important trend is the gradual increase in the number of timber woodlots on farmland. Farmers appear to be seeing the countercyclical value in having profitable timber plantations growing on their properties to balance low meat and wool prices. They may also have a long-term eye to carbon offsets from their trees, if agriculture was ever brought into the ETS.”
Production from New Zealand forests will increase over the next five or so years, due to extensive plantings in the past, which peaked at a growth of nearly 100,000 new hectares planted in 1994. But some recent years have seen a reduction in New Zealand’s total plantation forest area.
The MPI survey has revealed other plantation forestry trends, including an increase in the use of Pinus radiata. Ninety percent of current plantation trees are Pinus radiata, with Douglas fir the next most important species, especially in the South Island. The Pinus radiata dominance appears to be increasing. The survey indicates nearly 94% of 2016 seedling sales were Pinus radiata.
Foresters are also taking advantage of the genetic developments in Pinus radiata, with 72% of seedling sales comprising Growth and Form 19 trees or better. This is higher than the 69 percent in 2015.
New Zealand Farm Forestry Association incoming president Neil Cullen adds that the indication from nearly all responding nurseries is that sales for 2017 are going to be the same or better.
“However, the new planting rate is still too low,” Mr Cullen says. “I don’t expect a big increase until the Government provides incentives to deliver policies of national importance through more planting, in particular for improved water quality and to off-set greenhouse gas emissions.”
Mr Cullen says of special interest in the nursery survey is the reported sale of 9.8 million manuka seedlings, enough to stock 6300 ha. He says this is a reflection of the current high demand for manuka honey.