Wood Matters

PF Olsen Limited Peter Clark
Land is one of the cornerstones of wealth generation in both New Zealand and Australia. The flexibility to change land use in response to market signals has been historically important in both countries. From time to time politicians have sought to tilt the playing field in favour of a particular land use for reasons divorced from markets. This is entirely legitimate as when it comes to aligning public and private good, markets often fail.

In New Zealand we had the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) seeking to restrict conversions from plantation forest to pasture by requiring deforesters to surrender internationally recognised greenhouse gas units equivalent to the loss of carbon from felling the trees. This policy failed as the government also allowed low-cost international units to be used by all emitters. Until these units were recently banned the [ETS-related] cost of forest conversion was very low. What the policy did do, however, was discourage further forest planting on the grounds that the government signalled that pastoral farmers faced no financial penalties for on-going greenhouse gas emissions, but forest growers did.

In Australia vast areas of pastoral land were planted in plantation trees during the early 2000s. This was encouraged by the generous tax write-off made available in a well-intentioned policy to increase forest cover and diversify the productive land use. The policy was only partially successful as much of the land planted was marginal for good tree growth and too distant from wood markets. Most of the original retail investors lost their trees as the promoters folded in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis. Many of these plantations are now being reverted back to their original pasture state or in some cases to higher-value cropping.

The point of these observations is that non-market mechanisms that “screw the scrum” in favour of one land use over another must be carefully researched and understood if national net wealth is to be sustainably created, rather than destroyed.

For both an investor and the wider public to get the most out of our land resources the policy settings should encourage private land use investment decisions to align well with non-market national benefits of economic diversity, water use and quality, greenhouse gas pollution, biodiversity etc. This can only be achieved through a mix of regulation and monetising of environmental and social benefits and costs. But to create overall wealth to a country and the flexibility to change land use as market forces change, that regulation and monetisation needs to recognise the environmental effects and land-use capability rather than the politically easier route of allocating land use rights based on “grand parenting” i.e. referencing rights to historic land use.

It is encouraging that the Forest Stewardship Council has acknowledged that plantation forests are just another form of cropping and the restrictions to convert from plantation back to pasture or crops are to be lifted.

As both NZ and Australia enter the process of setting national targets for greenhouse gas reductions in the lead up to COP 21 in Paris, the role of Land Use and Forests and Land Use Change in setting those targets will be very important. We do not know what the international rules will be and no doubt both countries will want to set targets conditional on certain assumptions around those rules.

What we do know is that land use regulation and policies should increasingly seek to align private and public benefits. This means polluters should pay and providers of positive public benefits should receive payment. Also we must retain the option to change land use. Such change should be permitted as long as pollution and soil and water protection impacts are monetised and therefore are factored into the private decisions to change land use. A Nitrogen trading platform with initial allocations based on land capability rather than historic use should be seriously considered for sensitive catchments.

Land use conversion
PF Olsen is harvesting blue gum plantations in Western Australia using a mobile chipper and reverting some of the land to higher-value canola cropping

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Log Market
Introduction
The downturn in the export log market gained momentum in May with NZ$ at-wharf-gate prices plunging $12-$17/JAS m³ for unpruned grades and pruned dropping on average $10. Domestic pruned was strongly sought after and had an average price gain of $4/tonne. Domestic unpruned log prices fell marginally ($2/tonne on average) and domestic pulp log price was steady. This market drop has been tough for forest owners, contractors and service providers, especially those with short duration programmes that get heavily affected by prices prevailing over just a few months. This downturn is also unnervingly close to the prior downturn just 10 months ago making decision-making much more challenging with the high market volatility.

Export Log Market
The main driver behind the big price drop was A-grade CFR price dropping to as low as US$95/JAS m³. Other price drivers had marginal impact and offset each other; foreign exchange (marginally unfavourable) and ocean freight (marginally favourable). The large drop in CFR price was a result of log inventory building to over 4.2 million m³ in early April representing over two months’ supply. Historically at this level, CFR pricing is vulnerable and volatile.

Ocean freight rates have eased slightly over the past month. The Affinity Daily Market Report’s Baltic Handysize Dry Index peaked at 393 at the end of March 2015 and has steadily dropped to 326 as at mid-May (a drop of 17%). However, during the same period, bunkers (fuel oil for ships) rallied from a BWI (BunkerWorld Index) low of 780 (at the end of March 2015 to 900 in mid-May (an increase of 13%). These drivers, whilst largely offsetting each other, resulted in the slight easing of ocean freight rates and some shippers are reporting sub USD$20 for single port load/discharge. These are historically low ocean freight rates for logs from New Zealand.

Log demand in China has been steadily increasing since the Chinese Lunar New Year holiday in February and in response to government initiatives aimed at stimulating a soft housing market. However, large volume inflows have exceeded demand and resulted in the accumulation of inventory at the Chinese ports.

The situation, however, reversed during April as log offtake (sales from ports to traders and processors) increased and aggregate supply dropped slightly. In the chart below, for the month of April, deliveries (imports) were at an average level of 62,000 m³ per day and offtake was at 69,000 m³, resulting in an average daily stock reduction of 9,000 m³ or 261,000 m³ for the month. Looking more into the detail shows that most of the increase in offtake occurred in the second two weeks of April during which offtake averaged 71,500 m³ per day. If this trend continues, it is expected that the market will stabilise and CFR price will firm.

It should be noted that the figures above do not include the over-land export of logs from Russia to China which appear to account for some 90% (or 10.8m m³) of the 12 million m³ annual log trade. The coastal seaports monitored below appear to take the balance of 10%, or about 1.2 million m³. The challenge with this supply chain, however, is that the Chinese/Russia border is many thousands of km from most of the demand for wood products in the big-growth coastal super-cities.

It should be noted that there is a big difference between the current market low-point and that experienced in July of last year. The difference is the CFR price. In July of last year, the CFR price of A-grade logs troughed at US$120/JAS m³. In contrast, the recent low was US$95/JAS m³. At this price logs are both much more competitively priced in China, and much less attractive to alternative supply sources (both domestic and export). This is borne out by reduced supply from North America recently. The low log price is also affecting Russian supply but this is being offset by a much depreciated ruble which is propping up domestic receipts, potentially stimulating supply. As mentioned last month in this report and explored in more detail below, there is considerable speculation regarding the extent of the supply response from Russia and its potential gain in market share at the expense of logs from New Zealand.

Chinese log imports and stock
How Strong Will the Supply Response be From Russia?
The Russian wood products supply situation is somewhat of an enigma. Russia has the largest potentially harvestable area of forests in the world, estimated at 20% of the world’s softwood forests. The total growing stock of Russian forests is estimated at 82.1 billion m³. Annual harvesting levels are around 200 million m³ with exports of only 20 million m³, made up of logs (about 12 million m³) and lumber (about 8 million m³). Most of the exports go to China. The balance is domestic consumption. With 3,600 km of border with China and a greatly depreciated currency (ruble), won’t Russia vastly increase its exports of logs and lumber to China? Not necessarily. The following points are salient and suggest only a modest and gradual supply response from Russia.

There are only two over-land import locations in China’s north. Both involve vast over-land transport distances both within Russia from forest source and then within China to end-use markets.
The coastal route to market from Russia only carries a small percentage of the total trade and again requires vast inland transport distances to port, then additional shipping costs.
Forest roads, harvesting resources and transportation infrastructure is drastically lacking. Investment in plant and machinery is expensive with the low ruble.
Access to capital is limited, and interest rates are high in Russia.
Most of the investment has been in north-west Russia, a long way from China.
Lumber exports are limited by sawmill capacity but there are few examples of well-conceived and well-executed projects to date.
The Russian government increased stumpage rates and railway tariffs in 2015 – this was presumable a measure to boost ailing government revenues.
Russian logs in China
Russian logs being received in Manzhouli, northern China. Due to different rail gauges, the logs must be unloaded from Russian wagons and loaded onto Chinese rail wagons. We were told the different gauges were to make military invasion more difficult. In any case, logs imported via this gateway, and surplus to the limited local market, face a 2,000 km train ride to Beijing and much further to other large Chinese cities. One response has been to increase processing of wood products at Manzhouli.

For those that ponder why so much of this Log Report is devoted to covering China, it’s because China now takes nearly 80% of New Zealand’s export logs (Korea about 13%; India about 5% and Japan only about 2%). Whilst not a great market diversification story, it’s the reality of where the demand is, and who is prepared to pay the best prices.

For most forest owners the immediate question on their mind is: where is the market going in the near future? Whilst one can never be certain, indications are that we should see a price rebound in June, and hopefully beyond:

CFR prices have reportedly lifted during May.
Log stocks are in a downward trend.
Exchange and ocean freight rates have moved favourably (slightly).
The Chinese government is committed to continue to implement measures to restore confidence in the housing market and recent indications are that the market is recovering.
The low CFR prices will reduce supply of wood products from other sources.
Russia’s supply response is likely to be slow due to massive transportation, capacity and capital formation constraints. The ruble appears to have troughed and is in an appreciating trend.
China has announced retiring of large tracts of forest to improve environmental outcomes. This will constrain domestic supply of logs.
Whilst the growth rate in China has fallen to around 7%, consumption has risen to account for more than 50% of GDP (up from 35% in 2009). This is an important transition for China from investment/capital based growth to consumption/services based growth.
Domestic Log Market
Domestic pruned logs are well sought after and top dollar is being paid for reliable, high-quality supply. On average prices for P40/P1 logs lifted $7/tonne in May to $169/tonne. Unpruned prices were down marginally (an average of $2/tonne) due more to softening in the export market than any change in the domestic market dynamics. Domestic pulp log demand and prices were steady.

The Christchurch rebuild is continuing to create strong demand for structural timber in particular, and wood products in general. The booming Auckland housing market is also stimulating additional house construction and adding to the demand for wood products.

Residential dwelling approvals in Australia continued to rise in February 2015, with a 10.6% increase in free-standing dwellings compared with February 2014. Approvals for apartments (four or more storeys) leaped by 17.8%. The 6% depreciation of the NZ$ against the AU$ since the peak of NZ$0.99/AU$ in April will boost returns for exporters of wood products to Australia.

Housing starts in the USA were lack-lustre with March’s seasonally adjusted figure of 926,000 well below the expectation of over 1 million. Improving economic conditions, job growth and low mortgage rates, however, are still expected to lead to stronger house construction and demand for wood products.

The PF Olsen log price index fell five points from $100 last month to $95 this month. It is now $10 higher than its cyclical low of $85 in November 2011 and $11 below the two-year average and $6 below the five-year average.

Whilst the export log prices are almost as low as levels they got to in the last market trough in July of last year, the index is faring better by $8 due to the relatively higher price of pruned logs. Forest owner who are harvesting good quality pruned logs with market access are consequently weathering this down-turn better than those heavily exposed to the export log market. A greater focus on domestic supply opportunities, where possible, is also helping to prop up forest owner returns in a very challenging market.

PF Olsen Log Price Index – May 2015
PF Olsen Log Price Index
Basis of Index: This Index is based on prices in the table below weighted in proportions that represent a broad average of log grades produced from a typical pruned forest with a mix of domestic/export log supply.

Indicative Average Current Log Prices
Log Grade $/tonne at mill $/JAS m³ at wharf gate
Pruned (P40) 169 157
Structural (S30) 105
Structural (S20) 94
Export A 92
Export K 85
Export KI 80
Pulp 50

Note: Actual prices will vary according to regional supply/demand balances, varying cost structures and grade variation. These prices should be used as a guide only.

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An update on the Log Price Outlook
In February SCION, in collaboration with Wood Matters, invited a wide range of people to share their expectations concerning log prices for the future. Thirty-nine people from various companies and different parts of the supply chain participated. At that point in time there was a convincing sentiment that prices will decline towards May and will then start picking up again later. The predicted decline in log prices since February has materialised, as seen in the graph below. The grey lines show the average price that was predicted by the majority of participants in the survey. Dark blue bars indicate the actual. The significant drop in prices exceeded the negative expectations that were already voiced in February.

Log price forecast
During May SCION is repeating this forecast and would like to invite as many people as possible to vote online and tell us where they think future log prices are heading. Voting is confidential and takes 3 – 5 minutes. At the end of May a summary document will be produced and will be distributed exclusively to those who have participated. The plan is to repeat this every three months.

Click here for more information and to participate in the Log Price Outlook for May 2015

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Afforestation Grant Scheme
Last week Associate Primary Industries Minister Jo Goodhew confirmed details of the revised Afforestation Grant Scheme (AGS), administered by the Ministry for Primary Industries. The new version of the scheme will see $22.5 million invested over the next six years. These funds are available to encourage landowners to plant an expected 15,000 hectares of new forests. The objectives of the AGS are to improve land-use productivity, enhance regional economic development and achieve environmental benefits. The latter include reducing soil erosion, storing carbon, and improving water quality.

Successful applicants will receive $1,300 per hectare for new forest planting, with priority given to applications addressing environmental issues such as reducing erosion and improving water quality. The Crown will get the carbon credits for the first ten years. The landowner will own the trees and the timber.

To be eligible the land can’t:

be ‘forest land’ under the Climate Change Response Act 2002 when you apply
have been ‘forest land’ on 31 December 1989
have been ‘forest land’ in the 5 years before you apply.
The refreshed Afforestation Grant Scheme will be open for applications from 27 May and close 30 June 2015. Clients who require assistance to apply for AGS funding should contact their local PF Olsen forest manager.

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Forestry and the Emissions Trading Scheme
Price Update
The NZU price has fallen back over the last month from over $6.00 to currently trade at around $5.30 per NZU.

This month the government released its consultation on New Zealand’s post 2020 targets for inclusion in its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) for the purposes of the UNFCCC climate change negotiations in Paris this December.

The 2015 ETS review to be undertaken by the NZ government is still pending. This review could result in auctioning by the government of NZUs and also impact on the current two for one provisions for emitters (having to surrender one NZU for every two tonnes of CO2e emitted).

The use of ERUs and CERs (and other Kyoto units) for surrender purposes is coming to an end because New Zealand abandoned the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol in 2012. Surrender of these Kyoto units is no longer possible after the 31st May 2015. ERUs and CERs currently trading at around $0.10 – $0.12 per unit.

The figure below shows the recent carbon credit prices for EUAs, CERs, NZUs and ERUs. Note that from 1st June 2015 only NZUs or New Zealand AAUs are valid units in the NZ ETS.

CO2 price trend
Figure 1: Recent Carbon Prices – NZ$/t CO2e – Real (CPI adjusted)

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What is happening at PF Olsen Nursery?
With the imminent start to the planting season, we are working hard to get the seedlings as robust and sturdy as possible prior to delivery to planting sites all over New Zealand.

One of the major jobs that has a bearing on the planting success is controlling the height of the trees via an operation called topping.

Topping makes seedlings more wind-firm by reducing the height of the seedling. Cultivation and planting depth is controlled in the field by the planter, however a tree seedling that is tall will stick further out of the ground and is more susceptible to wind after planting than a shorter stockier seedling. Having a higher “root to shoot” ratio also provides drought tolerance by reducing transpiration.

However the prime reason for topping seedlings, especially in a containerised nursery is to harden the seedlings off. This helps the seedlings to tolerate frosts and wind exposure as well as the stress and shock that goes with transplanting.

When arriving at the planting site, the ideal seedling will have the topping wound completely healed over with a small amount of new bud. The small bud will minimise risk of the sensitive growing cells at the top of the seedling exploding during a frost. The newly formed bud will respond quickly and grow when temperatures warm up. If the bud growth is too long it will be more susceptible to frosts and wind.

With so many things going on in forest nurseries over the winter season, it is important to give your selected nursery plenty of warning in relation to your planting date. This allows the seedlings to be correctly prepared, giving you the best possible seedlings and in return the best possible outcome to your planting programme.

Topping machine
The topping machine used at PF Olsen Nursery as shown in the photo above was designed and built by the Nursery Manager Kevin Haine. This has significantly reduced the time and labour input to top all the seedlings in the nursery. We can now time the topping for individual clients to meet their planned planting times. Kevin noted on a recent visit to containerised nurseries in Australia that they have used his concept and design to build their own topping machines for use in their containerised nurseries. Not often we can teach the Aussies something other than how to play rugby and rugby league.

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Bioprotection for Foliar Diseases and Disorders of Radiata Pine
Foliar diseases and disorders are the largest cause of economic loss for the New Zealand forestry industry. In order to alleviate losses caused by existing diseases and also to reduce potential impacts of biosecurity threats, work is being conducted to establish a long-term symbiotic relationship between Radiata pine and beneficial microbes. The main focus will be to enhance tree vigour and induce systemic resistance against foliar diseases by using endophytes and elicitors. Induced resistance can effectively `immunise’ trees from a variety of diseases/disorders, because it causes a broad spectrum activity response by the plant (analogous to vaccination). This is part of a larger project involving Plant & Food Research, Scion, Massey University and The Tree Lab led by Dr Robert Hill from the Bio-Protection Research Centre, Lincoln University.

Over 500 new Trichoderma root endophytes have been isolated from healthy plants throughout New Zealand. They are presently being screened in assays against Diplodia and terminal crook disease. Activity against Dothistroma and red needle cast (RNC) will be evaluated in assays and plantation trials.

Screening novel Trichoderma root endophytes for enhanced nursery performance with P. radiata seedlings
Approximately 200 new endophytic Trichoderma isolates were applied to containerised P. radiata immediately after seeding at the PF Olsen container Nursery, Waiuku. Each isolate was grown on a peat/wheatbran medium for two weeks. Spore suspensions were prepared in water at a rate of 106 colony forming units/ml and applied to seed trays immediately after sowing. Treatments included single isolates and selected mixtures. Seedling establishment, growth, and health were monitored to determine the most effective isolates. 28 treatments caused significant increases in seedling growth compared to untreated controls after 5 months (below).

Trial results

Establishment of new forestry plantation trials
Wharerate trial site
Trichoderma-innoculated tree stock trials to assess tree vigour and resistance to diseases like Dothistroma and red needle cast (RNC)

Three sites were selected in the Wharerata forest near Gisborne (Juken-Nissen NZ Ltd). P. radiata seedlings inoculated with a Trichoderma mixture showing superior growth promotion and disease suppression were planted out. Seedlings were planted in blocks along with control treatments in areas historically subject to high RNC incidence.

Four trial sites were also chosen and planted in the Pinnacles forest (PF Olsen Ltd) near Rotorua. These trials will be assessed for disease and growth at appropriate intervals; already reduced mortality is being demonstrated.

Subsequently, over 15 new plantation trials have been established at sites throughout New Zealand to test the best root endophyte treatments for enhanced tree growth and disease control. More field trials will be established in the 2015 planting season to evaluate existing and selected new Trichoderma mixtures.

Trial results
The Trichoderma root endophyte mixture (T) recorded 2 years after trial establishment at three sites in the Wharerata Forest significantly increased tree growth (height).

If you are interested in adding a Trichoderma endophyte trial to your 2015 planting programme please contact Dr Wei-Young Wang (wei-young.wang@pfolsen.com) at PF Olsen Ltd who can assist you with the trial design and planning.

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What Research is Being Funded by the Forest Grower Levy?
Russell Dale
R&D Manager
NZ Forest Owners Association Russell Dale
FFR logoAll forest owners who are harvesting trees are now paying the forest grower levy – 27 cents per tonne on all trees harvested and sold to a processing plant or exported as logs. Approximately half of the levy is being allocated to research and development that will be of benefit to all forest owners. So what research projects are being funded from the $3.7M of levy funds allocated to research and development in 2015?

Fund allocation by themeConsistent with the forest growing science and innovation strategy, protecting the forest estate from damaging diseases, pests, fire and wind is the high priority with 30 % of the levy allocated to this work. Research aims to better understand foliar diseases, disease behaviour and spread mechanisms, the impact on forest growth, and control options. A major focus is on red needle cast.

The biggest proportion of the budget is allocated to raising the sustainable productivity of the forest estate to improve forest values and profitability so that commercial forestry remains a competitive land use in NZ and continues to provide the wider benefits that forests provide to the community – reduced soil erosion, clean water, biodiversity and recreation opportunities. Ensuring the wood grown is uniform and consistent in the quality required by processors to be profitable is also a key part of this programme.

Improving the safety and efficiency of harvesting on steep slopes through the application of modern technology is the focus of the Steep Land Harvesting programme. Mechanised tree falling and bunching, improved grapple systems, vision systems to improve operator visibility and teleoperation or remote control of harvesting equipment are a focus of this programme.

To provide options for forest owners the Diverse Species programme is focused on improving the growth, quality and health of the main species grown as an alternative to Radiata pine – Douglas-fir, Cypress species, Redwoods and Eucalypt species.

The community’s expectation is that land use activities, including forestry, will not cause negative environmental impacts so maintaining our industry licence to operate is critical. We must do this to stay in business long-term and continue to access markets that expect a high level of environmental performance. Water quality, chemicals and soil and biodiversity impacts are all components of this.

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Staff changes at PF Olsen
Sally Moore (nee Haddon) has returned from maternity leave to her previous full-time position of Environmental Forester.

Kimberley Evison was filling Sally’s role temporarily and has now accepted the permanent position of Forest Manager vacated by Lana McNaull.

Arif JalilArif Jalil has commenced as a Forest Information Officer with the Rotorua Land Information Team. Arif is an experienced Photogrammetrist/GIS Technician with a diploma in GIS and Earth Observation from the Netherlands. Arif has most recently worked in a similar role for Ernslaw One, Gisborne.

Al PanckhurstAlan (Al) Panckhurst has joined the Northland team as a Forest Manager. Al has a Bachelor of Forestry Science and over 30 year’s practical experience with the forest industry. Al comes with a good knowledge of Northland forestry and has previously worked in a number of forests currently managed by PF Olsen.
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Radiata pine spans many uses
Last summer the family and I (Wood Matters Ed) at last took on the Timber Trail after hearing many people “rave” about it. This is one of mountain bike trails in the Rail Trails NZ series. Located mostly in the Pureora Forest Park just north-west of Lake Taupo, this 85km mountain bike trail is rated grade 3 for the first 40km and grade 2 for the last 45km. It is usually ridden by starting at Pureora village and finishing at Ongarue. The first day involves a reasonably solid climb most of the way up Mount Pureora, and a rewarding downhill to the Piro Piro campsite where most riders camp for the night. The official website (www.thetimbertrail.com) will fill you in on all the details you need to know to plan a trip.

Pureora forest has a fascinating history from being almost entirely wiped out by the Taupo eruptions some 1800 years ago to being exploited for valuable native timber from around the turn of last century. It is now enjoyed for its ecological and recreational value.

Anyway the point of this story in Wood Matters is to highlight the 35 bridges, including 8 suspension bridges, which are a main feature of the trail, not only for preventing the need to ply one’s bicycle down and then up steep gullies but also for the aesthetic beauty of these structures. The longest suspension bridge is 141m and towers impressively over a steep-faced valley.

The abutment towers are constructed from CCA treated glulam beams with bracing in the form of CCA treated Radiata pine cross pieces (see photo). The deck is constructed from CCA treated Raditata pine boards. The whole superstructure is suspended on wire ropes and bound and fixed by galvanised steel bolts and fasteners. Often described as the world’s second-best wood, this use of Radiata pine showcases its versatility. For these bridges, it would be hard to find a better alternative, especially for the price. The wood’s durability (after treatment), strength-to-weight ratio, machinability/workability and ability to be glued all add up to a material that has enabled the Department of Conservation to construct a series of beautifully functional bridges that are enjoyed by thousands of keen New Zealand and overseas mountain bikers each year.

Swing bridge
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Disclaimer
The information contained in this letter is based on information gathered and prepared by PF Olsen. Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy and relevance of such information, PF Olsen accepts no liability for the use of such information or views and opinions expressed. We suggest you check with your PF Olsen forestry advisor before you act on any information contained in this newsletter to ensure that the advice you receive is current and specific to your particular situation.

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