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Eucalyptus trees to provide NZ opportunities

Eucalyptus trees may provide long-term opportunities for New Zealand farmers. Source: Otago Daily Times

New Zealand Dryland Forestry Initiative chairman Shaf van Ballekom said durable timbers such as eucalyptus, Douglas fir and cypress trees were going to provide benefits across a range of industries.

He said the project started out to assist vineyards in sourcing durable timber but he now saw the potential for providing timber for outdoor furniture, power poles, local infrastructure, railway sleepers and “wherever timber makes contact with the soil”.

“With these types of wood, it does away with having to treat the wood and some of the species are a lot stronger than radiata. And it is being sought by Asian markets and even the Australians are starting to show some interest in our eucalypts,” he said.

“It is another opportunity for farmers alongside their other income sources. It has always got to stack up. It is not just about growing trees, it is about growing products for the market.”

Mr van Ballekom, who is the chief executive of Proseed, became involved in the forestry initiative in 2003 when he was approached by project manager Paul Millen to assist in sourcing seeds for trialing trees to assist the Marlborough wine industry.

Around 25 different eucalyptus species were trialed. Some were already grown in New Zealand, but most were sourced from Australia.

Five species were selected for field trials on properties in the lower North Island, Marlborough and more recently Sefton, north of Rangiora.

With the species chosen, more seeds had to be sourced, primarily from coastal New South Wales and Victoria.

The two main eucalyptus species used in the project are E. bosistoana and E. globoidea, and were chosen for wood durability.

“This is a long-term project. It has been going for 10 years so far and it will probably take another 10 years to come to maturity, so it is a real long-term commitment but it is not a long time in terms of growing a tree,” said van Ballekom.

He said tools were being developed by the schools of forestry and engineering at Canterbury University to rate a wood’s durability.

“We have got to have some way of testing lots and lots of trees quickly,” he said.

“There are literally thousands of trees out there and we want to be able to find the best trees to produce durable posts and poles.

“We don’t envisage large quantities of trees being trucked off to the saw mills like radiata, but are certainly not dismissing it. We are wanting to provide the best tree seeds and to provide some links with the markets.

“The only issue we have is to wait for the best seed to come. It will take four to five years for us to produce the next generation of seed.”