Friday Offcuts 11 October 2019
Half a world away, it appears that Australia's AU$1.4-billion plantation woodchip industry is also being hit by the dispute. Australian wood chip exporters have been experiencing falling demand for woodchips from Chinese paper mills as a direct consequence of the US slapping tariffs on Chinese paper products. Three Australian woodchip shipments are reported to have been cancelled or deferred since July with fears that further consignments might be affected. Like harvesting crews in New Zealand, timber haulage companies in Australia involved in chipping operations are now reshuffling their crews as a response to the current slow-down.
A year or two ago forest products companies in the region were treated to a look into some of the early work being undertaken by an emerging American engineering and robotics design company, Boston Dynamics. It’s a spin-off from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It was an FIEA technology event. Local companies were given an insight into how robotics were being developed and could in future play an integral role in wood manufacturing operations. Understandably, the videos accompanying the presentation showed the company’s humanoid robot precariously teetering as it tried to walk.
It was all rather stilted but the potential for improvement was certainly there. Check out the video we’ve included this week. It demonstrates just how far this company – and the robot, Atlas – has come in just a few short years. It opens up a world of opportunity (watching this I keep thinking though of the 2004 sci-fi movie, I Robot). A great video to end the week on and to get you thinking.
As a final note to this discussion, it’s interesting to see that NZ’s largest appliance and technology retailer has just unveiled Nola. It’s their new digital human team member. It’s (or she) will be based at their soon-to-be-opened store to assist shoppers navigate their way around and answer questions. Nola is going to be one of the first human-like interfaces backed by artificial intelligence to be used in the NZ retail space. Noel Leeming have future aspirations of her playing a much wider role across different platforms.
Finally, the latest issues of monthly news and tech updates for the three newsletters, harvesttech.news, www.woodtech.news and foresttech.news were sent out to industry readers across Australasia this week. If keen on reading and/or subscribing to any of the three (all are free and targeted to a specific part of our industry), click on any of the links supplied. And on that note, enjoy this week’s read.
This week we have for you:
Innovative forest monitoring platform goes mobilePutting the world's eyes in the skies to work to improve human lives and combat climate change is now easier thanks to an overhaul of the Food and Agriculture Organization' innovative geospatial monitoring system.
A new version of SEPAL - System for Earth Observation Data Access, Processing and Analysis for Land Monitoring - has been developed that enables advanced forest monitoring from mobile phones. It also provides access to high-resolution data updated daily by a fleet of more than 190 satellites run by Planet, an integrated aerospace and data analytics company.
The new SEPAL 2.1 platform was launched in New York at the Nature for Climate Hub, an event coinciding with the United Nations Secretary General's Climate Action Summit. The easy-to-use platform offers anyone, anywhere unparalleled access to satellite data and supercomputing power. It paves the way for increasing accuracy and transparency of countries' reporting on national plans to mitigate the effects of climate change and fine-tune land-use policies and their implementation, as well as enhancing collective tenure rights where appropriate.
The SEPAL project is funded by Norway's International Climate and Forest Initiative (NICFI). Along with access via mobile phones, the new SEPAL platform also provides access to Planet's daily monitoring data for eight forest countries - Chile, Costa Rica, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana, Indonesia, Mexico, and Mozambique. These countries are front-runners to unlock results-based finance for carbon emission reductions through the World Bank's Forest Carbon Partnership Facility Carbon Fund and BioCarbon Fund Initiative for Sustainable Forest Landscapes.
"As of today, the FAO Forestry Department supports over 70 countries as they develop forest monitoring capacities to support Sustainable Forest Management and Measurement, Reporting, and Verification (MRV) systems in order to receive results-based payments. These first eight countries will serve as a test case for how advanced earth observation technologies can help facilitate new solutions in REDD+ and beyond," said Julian Fox, FAO's team leader for National Forest Monitoring.
Planet is imaging all of Earth's landmass every day in four spectral bands, at a spatial resolution of 3.7 meters per pixel, in a bid to offer "insights at the speed of change." This means that those engaged in forest management are potentially able to gain access to an unprecedented data monitoring rate to track forest cover and changes in land use, and address degradation on a continual basis.
"The adoption and use of SEPAL for forest monitoring has exceeded all expectations and its impact on country reporting to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is already a significant improvement compared to previous years," said Tiina Vahanen, Chief, Forestry Policy and Resources Division in FAO's Forestry Department.
First Esri Forestry Workshops for NZTo capitalise on those travelling through to Rotorua to attend the New Zealand leg of the ForestTECH 2019 series this year, two workshops have been set up for ForestTECH 2019 delegates by the specialist systems integration and information management company, Eagle Technology.
The first will run at the conference venue, the Distinction Hotel, the day before the two-day conference, on Monday 18 November. The second hands-on workshop runs the day after the conference on Thursday 21 November. As this second workshop is being run at a computer suite at Toi Ohomai, numbers will be restricted to 20 places.
Building on the Esri Platform demonstrated at the NZ Esri Users Conference in August, these forestry specific workshops have been designed to meet the growing interest from forestry companies across the country in using geospatial tools and workflows.
Both workshops run between 9.00am and 4.30pm. To attend, workshop delegates will have to have signed up for the ForestTECH 2019 conference. Registration to the workshops can be made whilst registering for the ForestTECH 2019 conference.
1. Esri Forestry. Pre-Conference Workshop, Monday 18 November 2019
This workshop provides a high-level overview of the Esri Platform incorporating forestry specific workflows.
Topics covered include;
(a) Technology update/transfer (10.7.1 Enterprise, Online)
(b) Mobile Apps (Collector (offline workflows), Explorer – migrating staff and contractors from paper to digital, Workforce (offline might be available), Tracker, QuickCapture)
(c) Survey123 – in depth (Online and Enterprise - what are the data considerations, Using Survey123 and Collector for multiple workflows, Webhooks – extending workflow past just data capture, Reporting including Dashboard construction (Wood Marketing Services to present)
(d) ArcGIS and system integration
(e) ArcGIS Pro – Imagery analysis
(f) Workflows flows for Imagery
(g) Managed Services
2. Esri Forestry. Post-Conference Workshop, Thursday 21 November 2019
This workshop is a hands-on workshop using computers at Toi Ohomai’s computer suite. It will focus on use of the Esri technology tools incorporating forestry specific workflow. It will be limited to no more than 20 places and seats will be filled on a first in -first served basis.
Learn the basics of Esri ArcGIS Platform apps and how to bring them together in workflows that will optimise your organisations field operations. The ArcGIS Platform apps that will be covered are; ArcGIS Pro, ArcGIS Online, Collector for ArcGIS, Survey123 for ArcGIS, Workforce for ArcGIS, Navigator for ArcGIS, Operations Dashboard for ArcGIS.
(a) Planning your field work by defining where field work needs to be done (ArcGIS Pro)
(b) Configuring spatial data collection apps (Collector for ArcGIS and Survey123 for ArcGIS)
(c) Assigning tasks and dispatching field crews (Workforce for ArcGIS)
(d) Helping personnel arriving to their destination quickly and safely (Navigator for ArcGIS)
(e) Efficiently executing field data capture (Collector for ArcGIS and Survey123 for ArcGIS)
(f) Monitoring field operations (Operations Dashboard for ArcGIS)
Full details on all of this year’s workshops and the ForestTECH 2019 November programme can be found on the event website, foresttech.events
Tasmanian hardwood CLT operation underwayExciting news out of Tasmania is that a brand new, purpose-built hardwood CLT plant will be constructed in the state’s north-west industrial centre of Wynyard. Stirling Machinery has been selected by CLTP Tasmania to supply state-of-the-art machines for stage 1 of the project, due to be completed before the end of 2019.
Both a domestic and international game changer, this new partnership will help deliver the first commercially available hardwood cross laminated timber panels. Several significant innovations were established as a result of the project including;
- ‘Whole of log’ sawing to deliver the entire spectrum of structural characteristics from all parts of the tree, not only low grade, delivering a superior engineered outcome over softwood panels.
- Creation of a new structural product from a plantation species that is otherwise only processed as high-quality chips for the pulp and paper industry.
- A ‘plantation to project’ approach by utilising 15-to-20 year-old sustainably grown Tasmanian plantation hardwood Eucalyptus nitens (shining gum).
Stirling is proud to be involved with this historic development and has been hard at work compiling the comprehensive portfolio of machines required. The project will require cross-lamination timber building systems, CNC to specification cutting and glue lamination and finger jointing lines. “We are obviously delighted to be on board with this project,” Stirling Machinery MD Craig Honeyman says.
“It’s going to bring huge benefits to this regional community, and it will reinvigorate the manufacturing industry. Our partnership with CLTP Tasmania is important not just to us but to investment in Australian business as well.”
The Wynyard plant will involve a considerable capital investment in laminating machinery at the outset and with a strong focus on technology and automation, employee costs will be significantly reduced. The new CLTP Tasmania operation will deliver hardwood manufactured products into new markets.
Construction innovations and the rise in off-site built modular construction have brought about an enormous opportunity for cross-laminated structural timber. Its strength and integrity as a building product have been proven through rigorous testing, plus its other main selling point is its capacity to use large quantities of younger and lower quality plantation-sourced logs. In a massive tilt for innovation, the waste material generated from the new plant will be converted into direct injection biofuel which will feed back into the grid as dispatchable, on-demand electricity.
CLTP Tasmania’s CEO, Chris Skeels-Piggins looks forward to the plant’s first production day with eager anticipation. “There’s no doubting this will be a momentous development in the wood processing industry,” he says. “It’s going to pay dividends for the community, for the utilisation of species that were previously unusable for structural products and we’re going to make a real dent in the import of overseas structural timber.”
Photo: Stirling Machinery Managing Director, Craig Honeyman; CLTP Tasmania CEO, Chris Skeels-Piggins
Source: Stirling Machinery
Just how far the humanoid robot has comeLast week we covered the release by Boston Dynamics, of their first commercial robot. This week we’re offered yet another spectacular look at the humanoid Atlas’ growing arsenal of skills, this time demonstrating its incredible gymnastic capabilities.
Accompanying the Spot sales announcement, Boston Dynamics also revealed another in its long line of impressive Atlas robot videos. Atlas is the company’s humanoid robot, and in the past we have seen it rapidly evolve from being first allowed to roam tetherless in 2015, to completing a spectacular parkour routine just three years later.
Now, in what is arguably the robot’s most spectacular video to date, we see Atlas perform a complex gymnastic routine demonstrating amazing balance. The dynamically swift flexibility of Atlas in this new video is simply spectacular with flawlessly smooth motions.
Atlas is still essentially a research robot with no suggestion it will be available commercially in the near future. Nevertheless, it is worth remembering how far Boston Dynamics has come in such a short time, with its robots precariously trying to just walk only a few years ago.
Source: Boston Dynamics
Foreign forestry companies grow in NZThe four largest private landowners in New Zealand are all foreign-owned forestry companies, an RNZ investigation has found. Despite a clampdown on some overseas investment, including a ban on residential sales to offshore buyers, the Labour-led government has actively encouraged further foreign purchases of land for forestry through a stream-lined 'special forestry test'.
Since the government was formed, the Overseas Investment Office (OIO) has approved more than NZ$2.3 billion of forestry-related land sales - about 31,000 hectares of it previously in New Zealand hands. Of that, about half has been sold via a streamlined 'special forestry test' introduced by the government last October. Overall, nearly NZ$5b of sensitive land has changed hands through the OIO since the government was formed.
The information comes from an RNZ investigation into land ownership in New Zealand. Using Land Information New Zealand data, Companies Office searches and other research, RNZ has compiled a list of what we believe are the 100 biggest private landowners in New Zealand by area, not including the Crown and public entities (which control at least 28 percent of the land) or iwi.
Together, these landowners have freehold ownership of 1.42m ha of land - more than 10 percent of all privately-owned land and about 5 percent of New Zealand's total land area of 26.8m ha. That comes close to the 6.7 percent of total land RNZ could conclusively identify as Māori-owned. Tūhoe, Ngāti Tūwharetoa, and the Central North Island grouping of eight iwi were the largest iwi landholders - although Tūhoe's holdings include Te Urewera, which has special independent legal status.
The analysis found at least 3.3 percent of New Zealand's land is foreign-owned.
This story is part of a series, Green Rush, which is looking at forestry and land ownership in New Zealand
Forestry scoping study for FCNSWUBS' investment bankers have been called back in to NSW Treasury to help consider options for the state's commercial softwood plantation business. Hot on the heels of advising NSW on its three-pronged poles and wires privatisations, it’s been revealed this week that UBS has been mandated to run a scoping study on the assets housed in NSW's Forestry Corporation.
While it is understood NSW Treasury's deliberations have just started, and ink has barely had time to dry on UBS' mandate, the fact NSW has called in the investment bankers is a clear sign the assets may well end up as the state's next chunky privatisation.
NSW's move comes after Victoria sold its softwood plantations in 1998, while Queensland reaped AU$603 million when it sold Forestry Plantations Queensland in 2010. Bankers reckon NSW's business could be worth as much as AU$1 billion, although there is little information in the market about exactly what the state would consider selling and terms attached to any sale.
NSW forestry firefighters put through their pacesLocal Forestry Corporation of NSW staff have completed the first stage of their annual fire season preparations, passing gruelling fitness tests that simulate the strain placed on the body during firefighting. Many Forestry Corporation staff are trained as firefighters and must pass an annual fitness test, which involves walking 3.22 kilometres in less than 30 minutes wearing an 11.3 kilogram vest.
Adele Wedding is the Southern Planning Manager with Forestry Corporation in Tumut and one of the organisation’s many trained firefighters preparing for bushfire season. “Getting ready for the fitness test not only helps firefighting, but it also has benefits in preventing injuries for our teams out in the bush and increasing general wellbeing,” Ms Wedding said.
“Some of our staff even volunteer for a more arduous fitness test required for overseas deployment or remote area firefighting, or in my own case, just as a personal challenge. This involves walking 4.83km in less than 45 minutes wearing a 20.4kg vest, or 15.4kg vest if you are under 68kg in bodyweight.
This year staff from National Parks and Wildlife and Hume Forests have also undertaken fitness walks conducted by Forestry Corporation’s Belinda Wielinga in Tumut, Batlow and Tumbarumba. “This cooperation between agencies during fire season preparations develops relationships which assist once the season is in full swing,” Ms Wedding said.
“Bushfires are a big risk to our forests and communities — as one of the state’s firefighting agencies, our firefighters have been on the frontline fighting significant fires in the region in recent years,” Ms Wedding said. “We need to be confident staff are fit and able to manage the physical pressures of the fire front, so fitness tests are a crucial part of our preparation for the official fire season each year, along with scenario-based exercises and a program of hazard reduction burning.”
Forestry Corporation is responsible for more than two million hectares of native and plantation forests and has been formally involved in fire-fighting for more than 100 years. The organisation also works in partnership with the Rural Fire Service and National Parks and Wildlife Services to help limit the impact of fire on forests and communities across the state.
Photo: (L-R): Softwood Plantations Division General Manager Mike Beardsell, Sales and Procurement Manager Peter Stiles, Radio Technician Silvia Grant and new Regional Manager Dean Anderson
RPBC Launches New WebsiteThe Radiata Pine Breeding Company has launched a new website. Chief Executive, Brent Guild, says it has been a long time coming with this being the first bona fide internet presence the company has had in almost three years.
“We are very pleased to reconnect with the market in this way. Our new site caters to a much broader audience than in the past, as we continue our efforts to take the message about tree breeding and genetics to a wider set of stakeholders”. Significantly the site not only provides access to GF Plus Values, which have traditionally been available via germplasm producers and licensed nursery growers, but also to the first public release of RPBC’s underlying Breeding Values.
“RPBC is committed to running a more open campaign. Ultimately it’s about recruiting genetic gain to the forest as quickly and as accurately as possible, and to do that we first need to lift the general level of the conversation in the marketplace”, says Guild.
The site will continue to develop and evolve, with the intent that it becomes a destination for those looking for research and educational resources, as well as a window into the management and philosophy driving the national breeding population.
To access the new site, click www.rpbc.co.nz
US-China trade war hits Australian woodchipsAustralia's AU$1.4-billion plantation woodchip industry has been dragged into the US-China trade war, with a number of shipments to the Asian economic powerhouse cancelled in the fallout from the dispute.
Amid fading hopes of a speedy breakthrough in the trade war, timber exporters have been hit by falling demand for woodchips from Chinese paper mills, which have become the industry's biggest customers.
Since July, at least three ships that were supposed to take Australian woodchips to China have been cancelled or deferred, and there are fears further consignments could be affected.
While shipments from Albany on Western Australia's south coast have been hit hardest, it's believed other woodchip export hubs in South Australia and Victoria have also been disrupted.
The setbacks have put the brakes on an industry that had been enjoying sustained growth since a wave of turmoil brought on by the failure of the managed investment scheme scene a decade ago.
Earlier this year, prices for bluegum woodchips reached a record high of more than $US180 ($265) a tonne, fuelled by soaring demand from Chinese paper mills, which have overtaken their Japanese counterparts as the biggest buyers of the commodity.
Forest Industries Federation of WA president Ian Telfer said the decision by the US to slap tariffs on Chinese paper products was hurting the profitability of mills, which was crimping demand for Australian woodchips.
Making matters worse, he said, was anticompetitive trade conduct by South American countries, which were dumping big volumes of cheap pulp on to Asian markets including China's in a bid to clear a supply glut.
China trade war hurting US hardwood millsIt is hard times for the U.S. hardwood lumber industry. The trade war with China has caused a steep drop in U.S. exports of the product, and now the industry is cutting jobs. China used to account for about half of all U.S. hardwood lumber exports, about US$2 billion annually. The Trump administration’s 25% tariff cut through that demand.
In the 12 months since tariffs on U.S. hardwood were announced in July of last year, lumber exports to China were down US$615 million compared with the previous year, according to the American Hardwood Export Council. In June of this year alone, when the full tariff rate went into effect, trade volume to China was half what it was a year ago.
“The American hardwood industry is facing a watershed moment in China. As political and commercial ties between our two countries continue to deteriorate, our industry is caught in the middle of a fight with a country who has been our largest market for a decade,” wrote Tripp Pryor, international program manager at the council, in an August report. “The real long-term danger here is that we are losing market share that will not easily be won back.”
Workers at Northwest Hardwoods’ mill in Mount Vernon, Washington, don’t have much time left on the job. The mill is set to be shuttered in November, and all 70 jobs gone. The Tacoma, Washington-based company, which is one of the largest producers in North America, is also closing a plant in Virginia, cutting an additional 30 jobs, and is then laying off 30 more at the corporate level.
China was its No. 1 export customer. Northwest Hardwoods’ CEO said the tariffs were just too much too fast. “We saw an immediate response from Chinese buyers,” said CEO Nathan Jeppson. “Our business, much like the rest of the industry, is highly dependent and has forged a large relationship selling into the Chinese market, and since the middle of last year, if you just look at year on year, sales are off 43% in total exports to China.”
Rail adds to supply chain efficienciesKiwiRail's addition of log wagons on freight trains to Port Taranaki will avoid the need for 2,700 truck trips on the region’s roads, New Zealand’s KiwiRail Group Chief Executive Greg Miller says.
Six log wagons have been added to the daily freight service between Whanganui and New Plymouth, enabling up to 45,000 tonnes of logs a year to be transported to Port Taranaki for storage and export.
"The addition of these log wagons highlights the real benefits rail can have for New Zealand's regions," Mr Miller says. "Six wagon loads a day will avoid the need for about 2,700 truck trips each year. This not only helps reduce congestion on Whanganui and Taranaki's regional roads and highways, it also reduces road maintenance costs and transport emissions - given rail has 66 per cent fewer emissions per tonne of freight carried than trucks.
"Rail improves the resilience of the forestry supply chain - giving more options for logging companies to get their harvests to port. The additional wagons to Port Taranaki are a solid start and, if there is demand, KiwiRail could run a dedicated log train to the port in the future."
According to statistics published by the Ministry for Primary Industries, forestry harvests across New Zealand have been growing dramatically since 2008. They are currently at around 36 million tonnes per year, and are forecast to remain at high levels for the next decade.
In the Western part of the Southern North Island, which includes Whanganui, harvests are forecast to increase from 1.5 million tonnes in 2019 to 2.3 million tonnes by 2024 and remain at that level until the mid-2030s. "The fact is, with significant harvests forecast for the years ahead, rail is a must have," Mr Miller says. "The trucking sector alone cannot cope with the volumes of logs, so road and rail have to work together”.
"Delivering logs by truck from the forests to Whanganui, to be railed to Port Taranaki, and then be shipped overseas shows how the different transport modes can work together to support regional growth."
KiwiRail is working on number of other forestry projects across the North Island, with support from the Government's Provincial Growth Fund. These include reopening the Napier to Wairoa line to transport logs to Napier Port and investigating a potential new log hub in Dannevirke. KiwiRail has also extended logging capacity between Masterton and Wellington's CentrePort.
NSW bushfires start of a long summerUp to 30 homes have been destroyed or severely damaged and some residents suffered burns when a huge out-of-control bushfire in northern New South Wales ripped through the rural hamlet of Rappville.
Rural Fire Service deputy commissioner Rob Rogers says the blaze wreaked havoc on Tuesday afternoon ahead of what’s likely to be a “very long summer” of bushfires. Rogers said on Wednesday that two fires - at Drake near Tenterfield and at Busbys Flat near Rappville - had joined together to form one large blaze which has already consumed 92,000 hectares.
Crews continue to battle the massive fire as they work to contain it over the coming days. “Unless we get some really meaningful rain, I think it’s going to be a very long summer. Before these fires, we had already lost around 44 homes in NSW due to fires so far this fire season, and obviously that number could climb significantly from these fires.”
More than 30 fires are burning across NSW but the RFS hopes more favourable weather conditions will help them get the upper hand ahead of forecast weekend rain. The cause of the fire is being probed, with investigators working to establish whether it was accidental or started deliberately, the deputy commissioner said.
Source: The Gaurdian
Buy and Sell
... and one to end the week on...changing the lightbulb
Q: How many Australians does it take to screw in a light bulb?
And on that note, enjoy your weekend. Cheers.
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