Milling cypresses and the marketing challenge
Don Tantrum, New Zealand Tree Grower February 2006.
I have been selecting, propagating, growing and managing cypresses for over 25 years including everything from controlled pollination to milling. We now have over 25 hectares planted from well over 100 seed lots and clones. From all these I would say 90% are average 5% superior and 5% dogs.
Easy to work with
Growing and managing cypresses was a slow way to learn which sort of log one should be producing. It would have been much quicker to start milling first then you very soon learn what makes a good log.
One of the big advantages of the all the cypresses is that once harvested, they are so easy to work with. First, you can store the logs for years, the heartwood never rots. Second they are relatively easy to mill – they saw well and are very stable. When drying cypress timber, the timber should be stacked and air dried to around 30% moisture content. If it is destined for interior use, it will then need kiln drying to bring it down to 10% to 15% or as dry as possible without cracking. The timber cannot be kiln dried from green as the high temperatures found in kilns designed to dry pine do not suit cypress, which may crack or warp.
Maximise the high value grades
Marketing is the challenge now facing us. Cypress timber has no recognised national grading system. With many small producers competing with each other on the local market and no export market that I am aware of, prices for green timber ‘off saw’ can vary from $280 a cubic metre for box grade up to $1200 a cubic metre for large diameter clears, with logs from $15 to $500 cubic metre.
If you intend growing cypresses for profit you need to maximise the high value grades. If you prune you must thin, big butts make big bucks. Small diameter pruned trees produce very little clear timber and what is not clear usually has pruning scars which make it unsuitable for dressing grade. I believe small diameter trees, such as thinnings and short rotation crops, would be better left without pruning providing the knots are small and green.
Colour and length
As far as the colour of the timber goes, although macrocarpa is generally darker than lusitanica or the Leylands, there is quite a bit of variability. This seems to be genetic, rather than anything to do with site or growing conditions. Dark timber has traditionally been more popular, but some people argue that lighter timber is better because it can always be darkened.
When it comes to selling timber the magic length for clears is 2.1 metres. Anything shorter than this is heavily discounted, which I do not understand. We recently built a new house and used cypress for all our interior joinery. The only length over 2.1 metres used was for skirtings. As much as 75% of all the cypress used was under 2.1.metres long and some as short as half a metre.
I believe we have the basic knowledge on how and where to grow cypresses successfully, and how to mill them with room for a little fine tuning. But successful marketing is a different story.
Don Tantrum is a ‘retired’ nurseryman, cypress grower and sawmiller from Taihape.