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Contractor found for Esperance blue gums

Farmers who were left with acres of trees are relieved to have closure over the blue gums they planted before the global financial crisis. Source: The Esperance Express

Elders leased land from farmers to grow the trees, which were to be exported as woodchips and turned into paper.

Several factors meant the demand for the woodchips fell drastically decreasing the price and essentially leaving the trees untouched for many years.

Abandoned leases meant landowners were left with dead assets.

Australian Plantation and Logging Exports (APLE) has taken on the contracting for the stale trees.

After working with Esperance Port Sea and Lands (EPSL) for more than 18 months, an agreement has finally come about.

APLE estimates there is roughly seven years of work in the town, creating jobs as well as spin-off work.

EPSL chief executive Shayne Flanagan said the challenges facing plantation companies were great.

“While there was significant challenges there, it is up to the industry to work with us and that is what’s been done,” Mr Flanagan said.

APLE first looked at exporting logs but wood chips were found to be more economical.

A trial phase was suggested by EPSL before work started to prove market viability.

“The trial is used to set the data and the background information necessary to secure the environmental approvals,” Mr Flannagan said.

He said many people had put savings into the investment and it was important they saw a return on it.

“From an environmental and productivity point of view and value for the regional economy it would have been sad to see them not get a return,” he said.

“Our job as a port is to facilitate trade so it is incumbent on us to do whatever we can to make that happen,” he said.

Local farmer Andrew Middleton of Oakmarsh Farm planted 560,000 trees between 1999 and 2001.

Mr Middleton first planted the trees expecting they would grow for 10 to 12 years and be harvested for woodchips.

The drop in demand meant his trees still sit on the 700 hectares.

“When we first started hearing talk of potential harvesting in 2013 we were very keen to follow any developments,” Mr Middleton said.

“It would have been a shocking waste of resources to burn them.”

He hopes 100 hectares of trees will be cleared in the next couple of months and he will run sheep on the paddock once parts of it are cleared.

“It will be good to do a bit of research into how the pastures regenerate themselves,” he said.

“Word from the east is that the previous pastures grow back normally so it will be interesting to see how it goes.”