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Agroforestry is not the answer

Barnaby Joyce

Barnaby Joyce

A forestry veteran says industry must be wary of government calls for agroforestry to play a more significant role in timber production. Source: ABC Rural

Minister for Agriculture Barnaby Joyce announced a $520,000 research and development project in May to look into growing trees for harvest on farmland.

The Forest and Wood Products Australia (FWPA) has been given the responsibility of co-ordinating the project and look into tree varieties, soil types and planning for plantations on farmland.

The Victorian timber industry then expressed a similar interest in agroforestry in September with the release of the Forestry Industry Taskforce Statement of Intent.

The Taskforce is made up of foresters, unions and conservation groups working to balance the needs of the timber industry with the interests of conservationists and chair Professor Don Henry said agroforestry could play a significant role.

“If we just keep going on like we are, everyone loses,” he said. “And they have identified a better future for all if we can look at things like plantations and agroforestry.”

But forestry consultant Peter Devonshire said the value of agroforestry would be lost if any attempts were made to implement agroforestry plantations on a large scale.

Mr Devonshire cultivates agroforestry plots on his Budgeree property, 170 kilometres south east of Melbourne. He said agroforestry was not designed to imitate timber plantations.

“I think it’s certainly something farmers should look into but I get the impression that [industry’s] looking at large scale agroforestry plantations,” he said.

“[Agroforestry plantations] will survive for a while, while the encouragement is there, but not necessarily afterwards.”

Mr Devonshire said agroforestry had to be driven by landholders, and he said it was not about mass production.

“It must be a landowner-understood process,” he said. “They can put 20, 30 or 40 per cent of their farm in for trees and that’s going to be more sustainable because they can get more benefits than just wood out of it. They’ll get the shelter, the biodiversity and the climate amelioration.”

Peter Devonshire said despite his belief that agroforestry cannot make a significant contribution to timber production, farmers have a lot to gain from the integration of trees and native plants onto farmland.

Mr Devonshire said agroforestry combined the principles of conservation and timber production.

On his property, Mr Devonshire has been growing native tree varieties, which could ultimately be harvested in small bush plots, with native shrubs dispersed throughout. He said it was quite removed from conventional timber production.

“Conventional plantations usually are a monoculture, one species aiming into one particular market,” he said. “[Here] we’ve got some overstory trees, spotted gum, they are going to be our main return income trees 20-odd years down the track, but you’ll also see a lot of wattle and native species. Effectively it’s like a native forest.”

Mr Devonshire is involved in Landcare and is primarily focussed on biodiversity “We’ve got many species of plants and it’s attracting back in native animals.”

But Mr Devonshire has the potential to harvest his spotted gum.

“The spotted gum is a semi-durable species and it will be used for either decking or flooring,” he said. “Weatherboards even, natural edged weatherboards. And if we do some thinning I can [create] some poles to use around the farm.”

He said more conventional farmers could use a slightly different form of agroforestry by cultivating grass instead of native bush to integrate the forest with the traditional farming system.

“[Farmers can use] grass that has been a paddock, they’ve plant their 1000 trees and they will keep grazing the grass underneath,” he said. “That’s a different form of agroforestry and probably a more broadly accepted form.”