IT IS a very natural and common reaction to decide that, if a timber does not behave satisfactorily with a conventional practice which gives excellent results with other timbers, the timber is at fault and is useless for the purpose intended.
This was the initial attitude towards eucalypts in Australia where at one time only those species which gave little trouble (if the usual utilization practices were carried out) were used. The remainder of the eucalypts were ignored or classed as suitable only for such low-grade purposes as firewood, and the balance of the timber requirements of the country were imported.
This remained the position until the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in Australia set up a Division of Forest Products nearly 30 years ago. At that time Australia's sawn timber consumption was about 1,000 million superficial feet (1 sup. ft. = 2.36 m³), but only half of this was produced locally, the balance being imported. Today, the consumption of local timbers is about three times as great and imports have declined to about two-thirds of their former extent. In spite of the fact that the more favored and readily available eucalypt resources have been reduced, the percentage of eucalypts in present total production has been increased to about 80 percent. Further, any eucalypts which were at one time regarded with disfavor are now preferred for a number of exacting uses in which imported timbers are now only accepted where there is a local deficiency of supply. For example, in Melbourne, 90 percent of the flooring requirements were formerly imported from Scandinavia, whereas today eucalypts are almost entirely used.
This vast change has been brought about by a thorough study of the characteristics of Australian timbers. Their disabilities have been overcome by the development of suitable practices for sawing, grading, seasoning, preservation, and so forth.
Much of the information and experience so gained is of value in assisting the utilization of plantation-grown eucalypts in other countries. But it must be recognized that under plantation conditions new difficult characteristics may become present, and undesirable features may be much exaggerated, Nevertheless, it is certain that further investigation can result in the development of suitable utilization practices.
The first requirement is an appreciation of the growth characteristics and of the properties of the wood produced under "exotic" conditions.
This was brought out during the discussions at the recent World Eucalyptus Conference organized by FAO at Rome, and which is reported on later in this issue. These discussions covered a wide field in utilization and dealt with subjects of interest to many countries, including wood used in round and sawn form, as well as pulpwood and charcoal. The feeling was that, if countries are prepared to spend large sums of money on the establishment of eucalypt plantations, they should be prepared to engage on utilization research. And not only laboratory research but also time studies on logging and other field operations, such as have already been initiated in Italy. Tanganyika was mentioned as a country where a special utilization section on eucalypts had been set up. Although only recently in operation, the section comprises a sawmill, woodworking and wood-testing machinery, seasoning kilns, and a pressure impregnation plant.
The Conference reviewed other existing activities and the present and likely future problems of countries growing eucalypts. It seemed clear that some countries were well advanced in eucalypts utilization. In others, uses are still restricted to roundwood because of difficulties encountered in sawing and seasoning.
If these difficulties can be overcome, eucalypts could play a much more important part in the economy of many countries.
Some of the problems will have to be studied where the eucalypts are grown. Others will require laboratory and pilot plant facilities. It is essential to avoid overlap and duplication and to make full use of all the testing facilities that exist.
In short, a vigorous program of utilization research should be pursued in all countries as a necessary adjunct to any planting programs of eucalypts or other exotic species. But co-ordination of these research activities is essential, together with the interchange of information to make known the problems which arise. While maximum use should be made of straight correspondence, co-ordination could well be facilitated by FAO through its headquarters and its various services, which already provide a workable machinery. To the extent possible, this will be done.
FIGURE: 1. The national forest survey. The growing stock is determined by measuring the trees on sample plots.
Photograph: Bombergs Bilder, Stockholm
FIGURE 2. Sweden produces some 1.5 million standards of sawn wood annually, over 64 percent being of export grades and Swedish timber is firmly established on world markets.
Photograph: Swedish Forestry Association