My Hormigo Guitar

Hormigo Guitar IAF 3

My new Hormigo guitar, built by Taylor Guitars, wood (back & sides) from Izabal Agro Forest

I started playing the guitar when I was 14 years old.  When my Dad bought me my first classical guitar, a Yamaha G-230 (that I still have!) from black market guitars in San Francisco I was thrilled.  I remember looking at the mahogany back, wondering about the workmanship and incredible quality of the wood.  21 years later I commissioned my first custom-made guitar.  The idea, from the beginning was to use woods grown on our farm, initially I thought we would use some of our plantation Mahogany or Rosewood, but my Dad suggested we do something more experimental.  “Why not Hormigo?” he said.  Hormigo, Platymiscium dimorphandrum, is a rich gold and brown tropical hardwood, what was intriguing about his idea however is that in Guatemala it is considered the finest tonewood for marimbas.  Naturally then, we thought it would make a good guitar.

With the decision made, we had a piece cut with our Hudson bandsaw, and sent it over to my friend Chris Cosgrove, wood buyer for Taylor guitars in California.  I gave them the specifications and a few weeks later we received this beauty in the mail.    The tone is beautiful and rich, and I’ll let the images speak to the quality of the finish.

For more information about our tonewood plantation please visit: izabalagroforest.com

Hormigo Guitar IAF 1

Hormigo body and sides, mahogany neck, spruce soundboard, with Cocobolo inlay

Hormigo Guitar IAF 2

Using the sapwood adds to the natural beauty of the Hormigo grain.

Hormigo Guitar IAF 4

The first of many instruments to be made from lumber sustainably grown lumber at Izabal Agro-Forest

Hormigo Guitar IAF 5

Hormigo grain, Platymiscium spp.

Hormigo Guitar IAF 7

The front of the guitar was made from Norther Spruce, however the inlay around the sound hole was made from Cocobolo

Thank you to all the good folks over at Taylor guitars.

Thank you to all the good folks over at Taylor guitars.

Hormigo-made marimba

Standard forestry vs agroforestry

Cacao in Cocobolo grove: Izabal Agro-Forest

Cacao in Cocobolo grove: Izabal Agro-Forest

Over the years I’ve had many conversations about the benefits and so-called disadvantages of agro-forestry, and I’ve found that people with a forestry pedigree tend to be skeptical.  The question always comes down to whether or not there is a financial or biological burden when double cropping land.  It’s understandable, as a forester you probably want to prioritize tree silviculture, so the idea that you may have to adjust your method so that the other crop coexist in a healthy way is a no-go for some managers.  To be clear, there are sacrifices.  In a monoculture your management is 100% oriented around the success of one species, there are no other considerations.  For example, you can plant your trees as intensively as possible, (1100+ trees per hectare), personnel can focus on one set of skills, and possibly there are other considerations.

But of course I see this from a different perspective, first and foremost I see agro-forestry in terms of risk mitigation.

Timber, agriculture, cacao, livestock, apples, papayas, they all have risks; the most common are disease, fire, natural disaster and market volatility, a farmers life is full of ups and downs.  Trust me I know.  But rarely do these risks affect crops in the same way, whereas fire may wipe out a forest floor crop like cacao, only a concentrated extremely intense fire could kill a hardwood tree.  Similarly, diseases, common in fruits and vegetables rarely affect trees in the same way, particularly hardwoods.  Market prices for any commodity will see good years and bad, but rarely across the whole spectrum.  And  unlike fruit crops, you don’t necessarily have to harvest your timber trees if there is a market lull, you can wait the bad prices out (and in the meantime they continue to grow!).  It has been been said before, as long as the sun shines and rain falls, trees grow.

The biggest disadvantage with timber investment is the long, (sometimes very long) wait it takes a tree to grow to a good, harvestable size.  For tropical hardwoods the time-frame is usually estimated between 20 and 30 years, depending on the species of course.  But therein also lies the beauty of the symbiotic relationship that a forest floor crop (like cacao or coffee) and a longterm tree crop:  One provides you the cash-flow to continue operations and receive income, the other functions as the life-jacket that provides a low-risk and historically reliable investment.

There are other factors as well of course:  A poly-culture will look and function more like a natural forest than a standard monoculture.    Agro-forestry is more likely to provide consistent, long-term, employment to community members, there are at least two streams of revenue and I should also mention that in a world where high-quality land capable of producing food is extremely limited, it’s just the right thing to do!

Mahogany & cacaogrove on my farm, Izabal Agro-Forest

Mahogany & cacaogrove on my farm, Izabal Agro-Forest

Hardwood trees with cacao understory - izabalagroforest.com

Hardwood trees with cacao understory – izabalagroforest.com

Forest management & investment basics

Speaking to a few of my readers I have been asked to write a bit about the basics of timber management and investment.  And just for kicks I’m going to include a tidbit of its history:
HISTORY
In the fifth century a group of Romanian monks established a pine forest on the Adriatic coast.  This was one of the first examples of timber management established to provide the monastery with a source of fuel and food.  This (now) massive forest was mentioned by Dante Alighieri in his 1308 poem Divine Comedy.   In China the Han and Ming dynasty adopted forest management practices, and in Germany forest management and sustainable harvesting were practiced as early as the 14th century.  In almost all cases these forests consisted of different types of Pine and Oak.
The practice of actually establishing forests, at a large scale at least, came about in conjunction with the invention of the steam engine and the great navy’s of the colonial era.
TROPICAL FORESTRY
Tropical Forestry is the branch of forestry which deals with equatorial forests that yield woods such as teak and mahogany.   Tropical forest management, particularly with hardwoods is relatively new.  These forests weren’t really “managed” until the 20th century, which explains why we are still identifying best practices for the region.  However, there is speculation that the Mayans did indeed plant and manage certain tree species.  Unfortunately very little of this knowledge was passed down after the great cities were abandoned.  The advantage of tropical forests is that they grow year-round with no significant dormant period; tropical hardwoods can grow up to ten times faster than its temperate counterparts.
FOREST INVESTMENT
As I mentioned above, forest management has been practiced for centuries, however forest investment as we see it today is, in relative terms, new.  Since natural forests are finite and evermore protected, there has been and always will be a real necessity to establish “man-made” plantations.  When people or institutions invest in forestry, generally they are investing in the raw material for pulp or lumber.  Naturally, these are considered longterm investments since most timber species require between 15 and 40 years before they become “harvestable”.  That said, many plantations today are bought and sold at different stages of the harvest cycle.  Most of the large plantations, particularly in Latin America, have been sold at least once.  For example there are risk averse investors who prefer to enter once the forest has been established, at say, year 4 or 5.  The reason for this is that new forests are more prone to damage, be it physical or biological, when they are young.  An established forest (4+ years old) is generally more robust and has a higher survival rate.
Investments in the establishment of new plantations usually include costs for: land purchase, legal fees, nursery/germination efforts, planting costs, management, and the subsequent maintenance of a timber forest.  These investors often seek to exit at that 4 or 5 year mark.  (By the way, a well-prepared forest manager should be able to facilitate this transaction.)  Investors who come in at that secondary mark should expect to pay ongoing maintenance costs, as well as a start-up premium for entering at a low-risk stage.
https://i0.wp.com/www.bigskyco2.org/sites/default/files/images/figures/fairy_forest.jpg
MARKET
Timberland investment has grown substantially as market volatility and inflation rates have boosted demand for tangible-asset investments.  The good news for timberland investors, is that no matter what the market is doing, the trees will continue to grow as long as the sun continues to shine and the rain continues to fall.  So, for example: if timber prices are down in a particular year (Due to housing market slumps, etc) the investor may simply choose to delay harvesting, and in the meantime the wood volume will continue to grow/increase.
Historically timber investments have shown market resiliency through the decades, several factors can be attributed to it continuing this performance trend:
  • Global population/demographic changes: expected to reach 7.5 billion in 2020
  • New environmental policy and regulation will limit natural-forest sources of timber
  • Increased demand for alternative energy sources
  • Global economic growth (as measured by GDP) is expected to double by 2030
  • Scarcity!
  • Demand from emerging markets, particularly in Asia (link to chart)
SUSTAINABLE/IMPACT TIMBER INVESTMENTS
This blog, as it were, aims to promote and discuss impact reforestation investments.  In theory these should not only perform financially but also:
  1. create stable job creation and economic development in the rural areas
  2. promote transparent and non-corrupt business practices
  3. promote environmentally friendly forest projects
  4. provide the investor with returns with 5 to 12% IRR’s
  5. mitigate pressure on standing natural forests
  6. create biodiversity protection
  7. at least partially rehabilitate degraded ecosystems and improve natural habitats
  8. sequester greenhouse gases in the atmosphere
  9. protect natural forest stands

https://i2.wp.com/www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/naturalresources/images/7407n.jpg