Friday Offcuts – 31 May 2024

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Welcome to this week's edition of Friday Offcuts.

The Wood Transport & Logistics 2024 event in Rotorua, New Zealand, last week drew over 200 to discuss the latest in decarbonising heavy transport fleets. Innovations in hydrogen, electric, and dual-fuel technologies were showcased, with notable insights from Wendy Fennell on Australia's first electric log truck and Gareth Wishart on hydrogen-diesel dual fuel trials. See below for full insights.

Forestry Corporation is advancing renewable energy initiatives by exploring wind farm opportunities within New South Wales’ pine plantations, granting permits to several renewable energy companies for feasibility assessments. Additionally, the Australian Forest Products Association (AFPA) underscores the timber industry's potential to mitigate the housing crisis by enabling the construction of 50,000 new homes annually, provided there is appropriate regulatory and economic support.

In New Zealand, wood processors are grappling with new EU deforestation rules, the Forestry Hub is returning to Fieldays in June and a new Micro Innovation Challenge will see new harvesting ideas win NZ$10,000. Lastly, Scion’s Virtual Thinning project aims to revolutionise forestry training through virtual reality, enhancing safety and efficiency.

Read these and more in another packed edition of Friday Offcuts. Enjoy.

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Key drivers to decarbonise heavy transport fleets

The industry was buzzing once again for the Wood Transport & Logistics 2024 event that ran last week in Rotorua, New Zealand. Well over 200 forestry and log transport companies from across Australasia, America and Europe, came to Rotorua to listen, to learn, to network and to participate in an array of workshops, conference and trade exhibits that had been set up. Images fromt last week's event can be viewed on the event website.

The event covered the rapid and ongoing developments in a wide range of technologies, including; hydrogen, electric and dual-fuel transport operations as commercial and operational trials with heavy trucks have really been ramped up over the past 12 months. Wendy Fennell, Managing Director of the South Australian based softwood harvest and transport company, Fennell Forestry outlined to the wider industry how Australia’s first electric log truck has fared after first being commissioned in February 2023.

Operating out of Mt Gambier, the battery powered electric heavy vehicle delivers logs from the forest to local sawmills and is suitable for their forest haulage applications. The truck is delivering on average 4 b-double loads of logs to local saw mills per shift. Twelve months on, distance achieved per battery is marginally less than what was expected with the average distance achieved per battery is 250 - 300km. The performance of the electric truck off road is comparable, if not superior to conventional diesel trucks with the instant torque allowing the truck to take off effortlessly in soft or sandy terrain.

After the conversion from diesel to electric, due to the weight of the batteries, the GVM was 2 tonnes heavier than when powered by diesel. After lengthy consultation with regulators and government departments, a PBS assessment was conducted and a permit was eventually issued for an increased total mass weight of 70.5 tonnes in February of this year. The truck delegates were told is hauling this extra weight without difficulty, and to date, it’s had limited effect on the battery range.

Over the next 12 months the company is planning to collaborate with industry and government using their evidence-based data to further understand the benefits of green energy technology and to demonstrate the need for electric heavy vehicles across Australia. Further analysis of the operating costs and reductions will be undertaken and negotiations are planned with customers for how electric heavy vehicles are going to be remunerated through the wood supply chain.

The sheer pace of change, with presentations and demonstrations made on new and emerging technologies, operational and commercial trials, and the rapid deployment of this technology into forests and wood cartage operations, meant a busy couple of days. And the action wasn’t just on-stage or in the car park crammed full of brand-new trucks, loaders and refuelling equipment but also on the sidelines with many one-on-one meetings taking place throughout the two days.

Gareth Wishart, Group GM of Innovation with HWR Hydrogen, another presenter who was able to provide insights on progress since last year’s event, detailed how the Southland-based company has already committed to NZ$15m exploring New Zealand owned and produced hydrogen and trialling dual-fuel technology. From on road trials with dual fuel, Gareth outlined how 1kg of hydrogen is now replacing 3.32 litres of diesel. When loaded, the new hydrogen- diesel trucks they’re operating are covering 678km with dual fuel driving. The company is currently converting another 5 trucks to dual fuel (including a smaller tank pack variant – the size of a diesel tank - that allows for dual fuel driving for up to 200km), moving forward with their truck fuel conversions and refuelling station builds and are establishing a new business that can convert trucks across to dual fuel for the industry.

In addition to HWR, Hiringa Energy detailed how they are developing and investing in hydrogen distribution and refuelling infrastructure across New Zealand and Australia to assist in heavy transport decarbonise their operations. Ryan McDonald, Head of New Business for the company explained how the business is partnering with New Zealand’s largest road transport companies and working with global manufacturers to introduce hydrogen technologies.

Already, a hydrogen refuelling network is being established by Hiringa with four stations operational in the North Island providing 95% coverage of North Island freight routes. Over the next four years, the plan is to provide full national network coverage with 24 hydrogen refuelling stations across the North and South Islands with a capacity to provide hydrogen fuel to 2000+ heavy and medium commercial vehicles.

As part of the large exhibition of equipment at Wood Transport & Logistics 2024, they displayed a relocatable hydrogen dispensing unit that can now be transported on swing lift trailers. This reduces the barrier to fleet trials and both leverages and supports Hiringa network growth. Hydrogen supply, refuelling equipment and trucks are ready now for pilot projects with some discussions on options to provide refuelling options for log haulage companies (inside the forest gate or located at a point easily accessible to log haulage routes) using these new transportable units.

The push to adopt new technologies within the logging and transport sector is only growing louder. And based on the level of discussion between attendees over the two days last week, the future is bright. Links to the many detailed presentations and resources supplied at the event have been sent out to all conference delegates yesterday.

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Wind farm opportunities with Forestry Corporation

Forestry Corporation has just reached an important milestone to explore the potential for wind farms within public pine plantations to contribute to the NSW transition to renewable energy.

Chief Executive Officer Anshul Chaudhary has announced that Neoen, Iberdrola Australia, TagEnergy and Mainstream Renewables Power and Someva Renewables joint venture have been awarded permits to investigate wind farm opportunities in some pine plantations in the Central West and Southern Inland regions.

Mr Chaudhary said the permits will enable the proponents to investigate wind farm opportunities in pine plantations in the State Forests around Bondo, Orange, Black Springs and Sunny Corner.

“Today’s announcement marks the start of the investigation phase under what will be a comprehensive and considered planning process,” he said. “A permit is not a consent to proceed with a project, but it will allow the proponent to start the detailed studies to see if a project is viable within each investigation permit area. Each company will need to conduct detailed wind farm feasibility studies, which will commence with the installation of wind and weather monitoring equipment on meteorological masts.

“Each company will also undertake extensive community consultation and work with local communities to consider and address potential concerns around environmental impact, noise, landscape and visual impacts, traffic and transport issues, hazard and risks, heritage, water and soil impacts and waste management.”

The combined investigation, consultation, planning and approval stages could be expected to take between three and six years. Any approved development would be unlikely to be in operation until the early 2030s.

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Source: Forestry Corporation

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Australian timber can help ease housing crisis

The nation’s forestry and timber industry can help build 50,000 much needed new homes annually with climate friendly timber and wood – but we need a strong and stable construction sector to achieve that, Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Forest Products Association (AFPA) Diana Hallam said.

Data from AFPA and Master Builders Australia (MBA) shows from the height of the COVID pandemic until early 2024, domestic timber sales have fallen more than 500,000m³ – meaning industry has capacity for 50,000 more homes annually. This is extremely significant given MBA has forecast Australia will fall 110,000 homes short of the Federal Government’s 1.2 million homes target by 2029.

Diana Hallam said, “Industry has product on the shelf ready to construct the new and climate friendly homes of tomorrow and capacity to produce more, but we need a range of different actions to get the housing construction sector moving so we can realise our goal. With the right economic conditions and regulatory settings, we can make it happen.”

A range of different actions are needed to help realise 50,000 extra homes, including:

  • Derisking finance for building new homes
  • Cutting red tape for building approvals to encourage more timber in construction
  • Relocation stamp duty exemptions
  • Encouraging greater take-up of modular and prefabricated timber dwellings with specifications that allow for economic builds and faster building approvals
  • Providing measures to workforce capacity including, incentivised apprenticeship programs, immigration visas and upskilling/retraining current workforce
Master Builders CEO Denita Wawn said, “When it comes to timber, it’s not a materials supply issue. The timber industry has signalled it has product ready to meet housing construction needs, with annual capacity for an extra 50,000 new homes.

“We will continue to work with the Federal Government on ensuring policy levers are pulling in the right direction to ensure the industry and its supply chains are in the best possible position to achieve the Housing Accord targets,” Denita Wawn concluded.

Source: AFPA

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NSW EPA issues new rules for harvesting operations

NSW EPA issues new rules - 15 harvesting operations stood down
  • Late on Sunday night the NSW EPA amended site-specific biodiversity conditions for Greater Gliders. The new rules took effect immediately
  • Forestry Corporation NSW has stood down 15 operations - 11 operations in the north of the state and 4 in the south
  • AFCA needs information about the impacts on businesses and individuals - click here to add your story

For a period of several weeks, Forestry Corporation NSW and the NSW EPA had been discussing the interpretation of the search and survey requirements relating to protections for Greater Gliders. Last week, environmental activists issued a notice of intent to Forestry Corp (and likely the EPA) that further court actions would be launched to seek additional injunctions to prevent harvesting activity. Amendment of the biodiversity conditions could not occur while a court action was underway, leading to the developments of the weekend. As the amendments apply immediately, FC NSW moved to stand down crews while a review can be undertaken of the updated requirements. It is not clear how long the stand down is likely to last, with expectations ranging from several days to a number of weeks. 

What has changed?

Forestry Corp must implement a 25-metre exclusion zone around any tree in which a Greater Glider is spotted. This is in addition to the previous requirement to leave a 50-metre exclusion zone around identified den trees.

Changes have also been made to how nocturnal search and surveys must be conducted, including that a first transect must be undertaken within 30 minutes of sunset to increase the likelihood of seeing gliders leaving their dens.

The announcement by the EPA can be read here.

Stand down arrangements for contractors

FC NSW has advised that usual stand down arrangements and payments will apply for those harvesting contracting businesses that have affected. 

There are currently no stand down arrangements in place for haulage. FC NSW will negotiate with individual businesses to determine what financial support will apply.

Case studies needed

Case studies are needed from affected businesses and individuals to support AFCA's efforts to advocate to the NSW Government to stop these rolling series of changes that are impacting you. To contribute, use this survey form or contact AFCA directly

Further information will be circulated as it becomes available. 

Source: Australian Forest Contractors Association (AFCA)

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Virtual reality tool to train foresters

A future where foresters are trained to thin trees in a virtual-reality (VR) environment before real-world training could be just around the corner. Scion’s Virtual Thinning project aims to create an interactive and 3-dimensional VR training tool to supplement more advanced on-site training.

The VR tool has more than 70 adjustable variables, such as stocking rate, tree age and light dominance. Scion wants to identify about half a dozen most useful to foresters, before finalising a training prototype by June.

Once complete, the tool will provide:
  • Trainees with initial understanding of thinning complexities.
  • Trainee understanding of the economic value in forests.
  • Initial training in a range of scenarios without the cost of travel to site.
  • A safer, efficient training environment where mistakes aren’t reflected in the real world.

Contact: Grant Evans Portfolio Leader, New Value Digital Forests and Wood Sector

Source and image credit: Scion

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New EU deforestation rules to impact NZ wood processors

New Zealand's wood processing sector is trying to work out how to meet incoming rules around deforestation for exports to Europe. The European Union (EU) passed deforestation regulations last year asking those sending product to prove that their supply chains are free of deforestation.

The EUDR (European Union Deforestation Regulation) was expected to affect products including cattle products, palm oil or wood products. New Zealand exported $100 million worth of wood products like wood chips to Europe last year - with more than half going to the Netherlands.

Wood Processors and Manufacturers' Association chief executive Mark Ross said there was some confusion around the new rules, tipped to be implemented in late December, and how they would play out. He said while the industry supported the idea, it needed more clarity.

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Source: RNZ

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Wood on display at 2024 Fieldays Forestry Hub

The Forestry Hub will return to Fieldays for its third consecutive year from 12-15 June 2024, showcasing how trees and wood are transforming New Zealand. Occupying site G80 at Fieldays, visitors will have the opportunity to explore more than 25 forestry-centric exhibits within the Hub. 

The forestry simulator will be back again this year, immersing job seekers into a virtual reality where they can experience what it’s like to operate machinery in a forest and explore the diverse range of careers the sector has to offer. Other attractions will include displays of innovative uses of wood, forestry machinery, the latest in forestry robotics, and a roving tractor called GOVOR. 

Crown Research Institute Scion will be on site demonstrating their 3D printer using forest-based biomaterials to print pinecones that visitors can take home. Visitors can speak with scientists about how they create renewable biomaterials and how these are turned into structures and objects using smart manufacturing processes.

Plenty will be on offer for families, too. Nature enthusiasts will be able to exercise their tree identification skills in the What Tree? challenge, and children wanting to try their hand at growing a tree will be able to take home a seedling.
A series of presentations across the four days will further enhance the learning experience of visitors to the Hub. Topics will range from planting alternative and native tree species, predator free initiatives, biodiversity within forests, wood processing and the burgeoning bioeconomy.

Visitors will get to speak to a range of representatives from small- and large-scale forest growing companies, wood processors, farm foresters, scientists, and not-for-profit groups, who will all be in attendance to answer questions and provide more information on forestry and wood processing in New Zealand. 

The Fieldays Forestry Hub has been an ongoing collaboration between Te Uru Rākau – New Zealand Forest Service, Forest Growers Levy Trust, Scion, New Zealand Farm Forestry Association, and the New Zealand Forest Owners Association since 2021. 

Visit the 2024 Fieldays Forestry Hub at site G80 from 12-15 June 2024 at the Mystery Creek Events Centre, Hamilton. 

More >>

Source and image credit: Fieldays

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Calls for dramatically increased disaster mitigation action

Opinion Piece John O’Donnell

As highlighted in a recent article by Leith van Onselen in MacroBusiness Australian Economy Call for inquiry into surging insurance premiums (dated Wednesday, 6 March 2024), there is widespread concern in relation to increasing insurance premiums. Former Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) chair Allan Fels has called for the ACCC to investigate the insurance sector over its recent hike in insurance premiums.

Further information in relation to the increasing costs of living and insurance is outlined within the NSW Government April 2024 emergency services funding reform consultation paper highlighted in the link below. The NSW Government deserves credit for undertaking this review, although it is highly likely that businesses and homeowners will still pay the bulk of emergency services funding collections, so it is unlikely that there will be major cost of living benefits.

Currently, NSW’s emergency services are funded by the Emergency Services Levy on insurance companies (73.7%), local governments (11.7%) and the State Government (14.6%). These fund the costs of Fire and Rescue NSW, NSW Rural Fire Service and the NSW State Emergency Service. The NSW State Government only paying 14.6% is a major concern, it is very low. The business and resident contributions to the levy are excessive, and increasing.

Increasing bushfire mitigation to adequate levels is an important measure to reduce bushfire disasters and insurance costs. For bushfires, markedly increased bushfire mitigation results in:
  1. Reduced bushfire suppression costs.
  2. Reduced bushfire impacts and recovery costs for both insured and not insured. In Australia, as noted in Strengthening resilience: Managing national disasters after the 2019-20 bushfire season, “one dollar spent on mitigation can save at least two dollars in recovery costs. Committing additional mitigation funding makes economic sense”.
  3. Reduced insurance costs and emergency services levy needs.
  4. Reduced bushfire environmental
  5. Reduced loss on infrastructure, including plantations and timber supply.
  6. Reduced consequent flood impacts after intense bushfires.
  7. Likely reduced La Nina impacts for the years post intense bushfires as highlighted by a study completed by Fasullo. Fasullo 2023) A multiyear tropical Pacific cooling response to recent Australian wildfires in CESM2 John T. Fasullo*, Nan Rosenbloom, Rebecca Buchholz.
These benefits are significant and there is an urgent need to increase disaster mitigation.

There are federal initiatives in relation to reducing insurance costs and reducing disaster risks including funding of the Hazards Insurance Partnership (HIP), which in managed by NEMA; the Government’s A$1 billion Disaster Ready Fund initiative, which is providing significant funding for mitigation measures; the Australian Climate Service’s (ACS) Priority Catchment Strategy; and NEMA’s Education and Awareness Strategy. There are good initiatives, but inadequate to reduce disaster risk, especially in regard to ongoing inadequate mitigation funding and commitments.

A number of other measures need to be introduced to refine and reorder disaster management in eastern Australia and reduce disasters and insurance/ emergency services levy costs. The attached paper has considered this matter further.

Hopefully, Governments, emergency services, treasury and finance departments speedily action ideas about easing reducing disaster impacts and cost-of-living pressures. It’s time for dramatically increased disaster mitigation action.

More >>

Source and image credit: John O’Donnell

Environmental Forestry 2024

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Harvesting Micro Innovation Challenge 2024

Fresh off the success of the last Micro Innovation Programme, Forest Growers Research (FGR) and Micro Innovation have launched the new Harvesting Micro Innovation Challenge 2024. Workers and crews can submit their innovative ideas to improve harvesting operations and be in to win NZ$10,000.

Our forestry crews are critical to successful harvesting operations. We want to support the great work you are doing by helping you turn your ideas that could improve your work into reality.

The Harvesting Micro Innovation Challenge is a chance to win NZ$10,000 to help you build a working prototype of your concept. This initiative is special in that it gives you (and us) the opportunity to make changes that are often just talked about.

The Challenge will be Live from 12pm Friday 10 May 2024, finishing Friday 5 July 2024 at 5pm, giving you a full 8-weeks to register your idea(s).

Your idea will be a technical or engineering solution that makes your work/tasks easier or more efficient. It could be a new tool, an improvement to an old tool, a different way of doing something, or a novel use of available technology… The only limit is your imagination!

Your idea doesn’t need to be fully formed, but an indication of build costs and timeframe is beneficial. If you have built your prototype already – it still counts! There’s no limit to how many ideas you can submit.

More >>

Source and image credit: FGR / Micro Innovation

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OECD report views NZ's ETS as risky

A recent OECD report has raised concerns that New Zealand is overly reliant on planting trees as a cheap way to offset carbon emissions, rather than focusing on reducing emissions at the source. This approach is unique to New Zealand, according to the report, and echoes warnings from the Climate Change Commission about the lack of incentive for companies to address the root causes of climate change under current policies.

New Zealand's main tool for fighting climate change, the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), requires companies to buy units to offset their emissions, and these units often come from tree planting. While this system encourages tree planting, it may not be enough to incentivise companies to significantly reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

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Source: Radio New Zealand

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SnapSTAT - NZ tree stocks and forest planting

The Ministry for Primary Industries reports that tree stock sales totalled 119 million seedlings in 2023, compared to 120 million sold in 2022.The main decrease was in radiata pine where sales decreased by 0.8 million seedlings (1%). Sales of Douglas-fir showed a modest increase, while sales of other exotic softwood tree stocks decreased by 3% from 2022.


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NZIF champions Arbor Day

The New Zealand Institute of Forestry (NZIF) is proud to announce its strong support for Arbor Day (5 June 2024) and calls upon all New Zealanders to join in making this day a widely recognised national event. NZIF envisions a future where every citizen plants at least one tree on Arbor Day, contributing to a greener, healthier, and more sustainable New Zealand.

Trees offer a multitude of benefits which significantly enhance our environment and well-being. They play a crucial role in fixing carbon, thus combating climate change. Trees also purify water, provide essential wood and non-wood products, create recreational spaces, improve mental health, are important for wildlife, and ameliorate the local climate by providing shade and cooling.

To mark Arbor Day, NZIF will be planting one tree for each of its members. This initiative symbolises our commitment to fostering a greener future and highlights the collective impact of individual actions. We believe if every New Zealander plants a tree, it will not only beautify our landscapes but also contribute to our nation's ecological and economic prosperity.

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Source: NZIF / Scoop

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Passing of Australian industry veteran, Vic Gersekowski

It is with sadness that we say farewell to a true champion of the Queensland Timber Industry. Victor Gersekowski, owner/director of Vic’s Timber, a cypress pine sawmill at Cecil Plains in the Western Downs region of Queensland.

Vic always had the cypress blood running through him, with grandfather Dick Gersekowski starting the business, carting cypress logs in the 1940’s. The family purchased the sawmill at Cecil Plains in 1959, with father Noel building much of the equipment. Tragically the sawmill burnt down in 1974, however Noel rebuilt it in just 6 months! Vic inherited the sawmill in 1981 after his father passed away. In 1999, he revamped the business and became the driving force behind Vic’s Timbers.

In Vic’s words, “It is such a unique timber, hard wearing, durable, termite resistant. It has the durability and hardness of a lot of hardwoods, and yet it has a knotty appearance like pine.” The family started off selling boards into the Sydney market, but as times changed, their focus turned to selling house framing and flooring into the Queensland market. Always looking for new opportunities and value adding, they invested in kiln drying and developed new customers overseas selling specialty products. Dressed timber into Japanese markets was a real winner!

You may not have always agreed with Vic, but you knew where you stood, and he was always up for a good argument! Vic’s passion for the cypress pine industry was well known and he most definitely lived and breathed it! He was keen to share his knowledge and experience, and always had a positive outlook for the timber industry. I was a forester based at Dunmore near Cecil Plains in the 2010’s and had the privilege of knowing Vic for several years.

Farewell Vic – you made a great contribution to the timber industry and to Queensland!

Source: Melissa Syme

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Buy and Sell

... and one to end the week on… a new priest

The new priest is nervous about hearing confessions, so he asks an older priest to sit in on his sessions. The new priest hears a couple of confessions, then the old priest asks him to step out of the confessional for a few suggestions.

The old priest suggests, "Cross your arms over your chest, and rub your chin with one hand."

The new priest tries this.

The old priest suggests, "Try saying things like; I see, yes, go on, and I understand. How did you feel about that?"

The new priest says those things, trying them out.

The old priest says, "Now, don't you think that's a little better than slapping your knee and saying; Oh wow, no way! What happened next?"

And one more to end with: I hope robots don't hold grudges

And on that note, enjoy your weekend. Cheers.

Ken Wilson
Editor, Friday Offcuts
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