New vision for timber industry

forestry meeting

The Australian Forest Products Association has presented a policy proposal to the federal government, which could bring up to 465 new jobs into Tumut and Tumbarumba.

The proposal would see 300,000 hectares of plantations developed around 29 established areas across Australia, within 100 kilometres of existing processing facilities.

Speaking to the local Softwood Plantation Working Group last Friday at Tumbarumba only days after presenting the policy to the government, Australian Forestry Product Association CEO Ross Hampton said the proposal is about creating a sustainable future for the forestry industry.

Currently the industry’s future is looking increasingly bleak as the years go on due to a lack of investment in expanding plantations to keep up with global demand.

Mr Hampton organised a special brief for the working group ahead of the plan’s federal launch in coming weeks.

The proposal will involve no new funding but instead a re-allocation of $278 million and allowing the timber industry to become a part of the Carbon Farming Initiative and renewable energy policy.

Under the plan, up to $250 million will be directed from existing programs under the governments $42 billion Infrastructure Investment Programme with $25 million for skills and training being redirected from the $664million Industry Skills Fund.

In addition $3 million of seed funding would come from the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper would establish a national farm forestry cooperative to encourage farmers establishing forestry program on farms.

The scheme would create 4,533 direct jobs nationally and would see Tumut and Tumbarumba’s 30,000 hectare plantation shortage rectified, according to Mr Hampton.

Locally the scheme could add 465 direct jobs in Tumut and Tumbarumba, predicts the Australian Forest Products Association.

The local Softwood Working Group is at the forefront of the proposal, being the first non-government group to be briefed on the yet-to-be released scheme.

Last Friday’s meeting consisted of Tumut general manager Bob Stewart, Tumbarumba mayor Ian Chaffey, Chairman Peter Crowe and chair of Regional Development Australia Riverina Diana Gibbs.

Mr Hampton said it was the group’s forward thinking and their understanding about the position of the local and national forestry industry, which brought him to Tumbarumba.

“The plan isn’t officially launched yet, we’re working towards a national launch. We’ve had a meeting with parliamentarians and are giving a soft launch to give a background brief. It’s about trying to work out a sensible way to approach and rectify the national shortage of timber,” Mr Hampton said.

Mr Hampton reiterated the belief of the Softwood Group and the Australian Forest Products Association; without plantation incentives the industry will reach an untenable position.

“Nationally we have a basis of 2.1 millon plantation hectares but we’ve lost 300,000 hectares over the past five years,” Mr Hampton said.

“In the past, plantations have ended up in the wrong place or were made up of the wrong trees while at the same time global demand has increased.

“In the future it’s predicted we’ll need three earth’s worth of resources. There’s an agreement we’ll need more fibre for resources and we want it to be sustainable.”

The privatisation of timber plantations have led to a faltering in expansion, with private investment corporations wanting quick profit turnaround rather than the 30 investment trees require.

Mr Hampton said it is time the government steps up to incentivise plantation else the industry will become unsustainable.

“We need help getting trees in the ground; we are the only large scale plantations in the world without state investment. Locally it takes 12 to 13 years before you start to see any cash flow and 20 to 30 years before you get a return on your investment,” Mr Hampton said.

“We’re working with the government on a new vision for forestry in Australia. We had Vision 2020 which was signed in 1997 which called for 3million hectares by 2020 that’s simply not going to happen.”

In light of this failing, the forestry peak body has presented its new policy proposal in order to incentivise plantations and prevent a nationwide wood shortage.

“It’s expected we need 300,000 hectare back and the way to get that is to have a 100km radius circle around major processing hubs in Australia. The direct jobs created by theses hubs will be over 4,500. We’ve asked the government to focus on these strategic hubs and for them to acknowledge trees store carbon, in fact tree rotation stores more carbon in the long run,” Mr Hampton said.

Currently the timber industry is excluded from the Carbon Farming Initiative under the Emissions Reduction Fund; an omission Mr Hampton believes hurts the industry.

30,000 hectares of rotation planting stores five million tonnes per annum, absorbing and storing more carbon in the long term than environmental planning.

Mr Hampton said wood products are experiencing a worldwide boom.

“The world is discovering a new world of bioeconomic products which is transforming the industry internationally,” Mr Hampton said.

“Things that used to be wasted are now incredibly valuable and as we move away from fossil fuels we’re on the right side of history. As we get better at utilising residue products such as cellulose we’re able to create bioeconomic plastic water product and other plastic products.”

Local industry heavyweight and chair of the Softwood Working Group Peter Crowe said the local industry must lead the way nationally.

““This is an opportunity to provide leadership to the rest of Australia and show them what needs to be done and that we are capable of doing it. We need to give an example to the state and federal government as well as other regions in the same industry,” Mr Crowe said.

“We believe we are ideally placed to play a role in fixing Australia’s wood shortage. We have a proven record as regional leaders in this regard and we’re keen to help solve the national problem.”

As Australia experiences a large housing boom our local industry is missing out, forced to import pulp rather than harvest the full amount required ourselves, Mr Hampton said.

“We need to get on with it, we’re experiencing the largest housing boom and we’ve seen the largest import or wood products,” he said.

Mr Stewart has said the region will vastly benefit from the creation of a strategic plantation hub.

“We are world class, handling everything from planting, processing and harvesting and we have world class innovation. We’re in an ideal place to build upon that industry as a strategic hub,” he said.

“It’ll benefit the community because money will be invested into roads and other areas. We know the infrastructure is already here.”

Clr Chaffey said it is not yet decided where the plantations will be, but echoed Mr Stewart’s sentiment.

“There’s plenty of suitable country here, whether it’s already clear or there’s some native scrub that doesn’t reach standards. It’s not about knocking down areas but finding land ideally suited for pine and looking at the radius,” he said.

“We’re not looking at the present, not five years in the future but 30 to 50 years down the track. We wouldn’t have the resources we have now if it wasn’t for people of the past having vision. Towns like Tumbarumba depend on timber as an economic driver and we will continue to see it so, it’s a major lifeblood of the town.”

The plan will also create a structure to incentivise farmers creating their own plantations and working together to boost the national timber amount.

“Our other push is for farm forestry, where planting is done on five to ten per cent of a farm where it makes sense. Farmers would get carbon farming payments. We’re asking for $3million to create a cooperative structure,” Mr Hampton said.

“Currently farmers don’t feel in a position to be sure of an outcome 20 or 30 years down the track. In Europe farmers have a cooperative structure, where one harvester will go around and harvest for a whole group and one person will go around selling and advocating for a group. It saves infrastructure and time.”