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Clarky's Comment - April 2012

The New Zealand Forestry Science and Innovation Plan - January 2012 (S&I Plan) is one of a series of industry initiatives within a broader New Zealand Forest and Wood Products Industry Strategic Action Plan. The S&I Plan can be accessed at:
New Zealand Science and Innovation Plan - January 2012

The S&I Plan was developed by the New Zealand Forest Owners Association Research Committee in consultation with wider industry and science stakeholders. It is a response to changes in the New Zealand government's science effort led by Sir Peter Gluckman. These changes are welcomed by the forestry sector and provide the opportunity for science to play a bigger role in the contribution of New Zealand's primary industries to New Zealand's economic performance. Key changes now being implemented are:

  • Focus of CRIs on research into what business needs and can quickly adopt.
  • Less competition and more cooperation between CRIs to make the best use of our scarce top science talent across sectors. Along with this comes a higher portion of core funding.
  • Better communication between science providers and end-user stakeholders.

A concurrent message from government was that there was no fresh money to put into science – existing funds just had to be better directed and utilized. With an increase in core funding, that could only mean one thing; such funds that were contestable for bidding between sectors would become even more hotly contested. It was also made clear that the current level of leverage of government funding to the forest industry (up to 6:1 on some Future Forest Research programmes) was not sustainable.

With most of the forest growing research funds managed by Future Forests Research being both contestable and highly leveraged, and without any compulsory commodity levy in place to respond to a reduced level of government support, this could only mean one of two things. Either the research programme would have to be materially scaled back, or industry would have to come up with a lot more funding. The logical course to follow was to make sure both that the money we did spend on R&D was on what mattered most, and to look at how sufficient funding could be assured to support multi-year pan-industry R&D programmes.

The S&I Plan deals mostly with the former. There is other work going on around the NZFOA budget and a commodity levy that will seek to address the industry funding issue.

The S&I Plan identifies research areas that show the most potential to increase the profitability of growing commercial plantation forests. Of course when considering this question we need to understand what the consumers of forest products want now and in the future. While it is clear that biofuel, biochemicals and other forest products derived from wood fibers will form an important role in a carbon constrained future, the Plan identifies high-value, high volume solid wood forest products as the real drivers of forest growing profitability, both now and in the future. Our linkage to end consumers is via the wood processing sector, with whom we communicate regularly at both the commercial and industry body level.

The wood processing sector has also developed a Wood Processing and Manufacturing Science and Innovation Plan, and has endorsed the forest grower's Plan as consistent with achieving the raw material characteristics they are seeking.

Research priorities identified in the Plan fall into 3 broad categories as follows:

  1. Improved Productivity and Consistency
    • Foliar Disease Solutions
    • Genetics (breeding, varieties, GM)
    • Long-term Market Trends
    • Silviculture
  2. Sustainability
    • Resource Measurement
    • Alternative Species
    • Licence to Operate
    • Verification of Sustainability for Market Access
    • Rural Fire
  3. Operational Performance
    • Harvesting Steep Ground
    • Supply Chain

The S&I Plan has now been the subject of an external review by two international science leaders asked to look at the Plan itself, what capability we had within New Zealand to carry out the science work needed, where that capability was and some ideas on how best to manage and govern the implementation of the necessary science work. This review will result in some minor amendments to the Plan and also to discussion with stakeholders around the future governance and management of forest growing science in New Zealand.