Naturally durable trees seen as timber of future

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By SHELLEY TOPP

The owner of Mount Grey Homestead farm in Ashley, which has more than 650 varieties of trees and shrubs planted over 100 hectares, believes naturally durable timber is the way of the future.

Gary Fleming says there is a big market for naturally durable timber in Japan, where there is a resurgence in building with wood. Architects are promoting the product as a cleaner alternative to steel, concrete and brick.

“They would buy all the durable wood we could supply, if we were growing it.”

The main forestry species being planted in New Zealand is radiata pine, chemically treated to achieve durability before it can be used.

“Our major export for radiata is China and they don’t even use it for building there. They use it mainly for boxing for holding up wet concrete.”

Gary would like to see more durable species of trees, such as Eucalyptus argophloia and Eucalyptus cladocalyx, which can be used naturally without the need to be treated with chemicals, grown in New Zealand.

“In Australia they use Eucalyptus (for building construction), but here there are a lot of rules and regulations that are made primarily by some of the large forestry corporations that I think are trying to protect their radiata resource.

“However, other countries worldwide did not have any problem building houses with naturally durable timber.

“It is a lot better on the environment,” Gary says.

“When you are building a house with treated pine you have to vacuum up all the sawdust, and the sawdust and offcuts all have to go to an approved land fill. It is expensive to dump it.

“Whereas if you are using a naturally durable species you can sell the sawdust to a landscape place and use the offcuts for firewood, but you are not allowed to burn treated pine.

Eucalyptus argophloia and Eucalyptus cladocalyx trees were good options for farmers to grow because they also provided excellent, low cost, timber for fence posts and farm buildings.”

Mt Grey Homestead has been in Gary’s family for four generations. His great grandfather bought the property in 1915.

Although the trees on the farm are grown for timber, they also provide environmental and aesthetic benefits, plus shelter for the sheep and deer on the property.

Many of the trees, including pines, also provide good fodder for the deer. “The deer like lots of different things other than rye grass and white clover,” Gary says.

“They enjoy a lot of trees and shrubs and get a lot of secondary compounds from the cuttings of trees and shrubs that we feed them.

Gary is a member of the North Canterbury branch of the New Zealand Farm Forestry Association, which has given him access to a great pool of knowledge about trees and all issues relating to them.

“The information-sharing on field trips is phenomenal,” he says. “We are always learning about what works for people and what doesn’t work in our area. It is a very enjoyable group to belong to.”

Establishing trees on any farm is costly because they have to be planted, fenced off from stock and pruned, but it was “definitely well worth it in the long run”, Gary says.

“You will find that, in the short-term, your production will increase with the shelter and the shade. Animals will do better because they are not sitting out in the sun all the time and they are not in the cold, southerly winds, and so they will produce more.

“So, in the short-term, you do get a benefit from the trees, even though you are not getting any direct income from timber for 20 or 30 years.”