The Cape Province differs from the rest of the country in that it has traditionally used pine for the manufacture of poles. Elsewhere, eucalyptus is used.
In the production of the Cape's agricultural and fencing poles, the most commonly-used species are Pinus pinaster and Pinus radiata. These two species, as well as Pinus canariensis, are listed in the South African National Standard 457-2 as being suitable for this purpose.
However, they are becoming increasingly scarce, forcing suppliers to search for alternatives to fill the demand. “When it comes to raw material, it is important to differentiate between the pole market and the structural sawn timber market,” explains Dolphin Bay sales executive and former forester, Braam Rust. “Most pine plantations these days are geared towards the sawn timber market, which means that not much timber from these plantations is suitable for poles. To add to the problem, the government decided to exit 45 000 ha of forestry area in the Western Cape by 2020, and over 14 000 ha of plantation in the Tsitsikamma area was destroyed by fire in 2005. In 2008, government decided to reverse 50% of the exit strategy area, but to date we have seen no action. Where there is re-establishment of pine, it tends to be of the Pinus elliottii variety, which does not feature in SANS 457-2 as suitable for pole manufacture. It has been tried, but from personal experience I can say that it is too weak, cracks easily and does not give a smooth finish when machined. The other big disadvantage is that it contains many gum pockets.”
Manufacturers running out of raw material have to weigh up whether it is worth buying pine that is of poorer quality, or to look further afield for the approved pine species, most of which comes from the Southern Cape area, around George and Knysna. Smaller quantities are still available in the Tsitsikamma, some between Port Elizabeth and Jeffreys Bay, and there is some in the Western Cape. “But manufacturers have to keep in mind the harvesting terrain, as well as the cost implications of transport over long distances,” says Rust.
“Unfortunately, there is no real alternative to the traditionally-used species. I recommend only those listed in SANS 457-2, specifically Pinus radiata. As a last resort, I would advise industry to put pressure on government to take decisive action on the reversal of the forestry exit strategy of about 22 500 ha.”