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Protecting Access to International Markets

The results of a four year research programme designed to protect and future-proof the forest industry’s access to international log and sawn timber markets were recently presented to industry and government stakeholders. The programme focused on finding alternatives to methyl bromide fumigants which are used to treat logs and some sawn timber and horticultural products destined for overseas markets. It is particularly important for log exports to India and for top stow log exports to China. Methyl bromide is a substance that damages the earth’s ozone layer. In 2010 the New Zealand Environmental Protection Authority ruled that the release of methyl bromide to the atmosphere in relation to fumigating logs will not be permitted beyond 2020.

Through the Stakeholders in Methyl Bromide Reduction (STIMBR) the industry and Government have invested in research to reduce its reliance on methyl bromide fumigation. This research has aimed at leaving “no stone unturned” in the quest to find alternatives to methyl bromide. The main thrust of the research has been to investigate reducing the use of methyl bromide with lower application rates, capture and destruction of the fumigant, finding alternative fumigants to methyl bromide – one such alternative is currently being evaluated - and finding alternatives to chemical fumigants. These alternatives include debarking to an export phytosanitary standard, identifying whether there are insect-free periods that would allow log exports during specified periods and investigating Joule heating of logs with electricity to a level that insects and pathogens are killed.

To provide evidence to overseas governments that our treatments are effective the research programme has had to develop ways of rearing large numbers of bark beetles in captivity. Plant and Food Research staff have led the way in developing methods to rear two species of bark beetle in laboratory colonies. The ability to rear these insects in the laboratory is a world first.

At the same time Scion scientists have undertaken a large scale insect monitoring and trapping programme over three years across New Zealand to record insect flight activity. This is believed to be one of the largest studies of its kind with the aim of identifying times when logs have a very low risk of insect infestation. This has shown that in the colder southern parts of New Zealand there are low risk periods that we may be able to utilise.

In another stream of work University of Canterbury researchers have investigated Joule heating logs with electricity to kill insects. The researchers have successfully heated logs in the laboratory to the required temperatures indicating the potential of this technology. Preliminary design and costing of a prototype treatment plant that would be located at a port is the next step to establish commercial viability of this promising technology.

Whilst the MBIE funding component of this programme ceases in October, STIMBR will continue to fund research in these areas for a further two years and during this time will seek alternative funding to ensure our access to world markets is not constrained.

Logs being fumigated with methyl bromide under tarpaulins at Northport. Currently this is the only way to achieve the phytosanitary certification to allow top stow log exports to China. After 2020, unless alternatives can be found, there will need to be recapture of the fumigant gas which is technically challenging and expensive.