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Farmers face burning decisions in WA

A transformation is underway in southern Western Australia as farmers work to return abandoned blue gum investment blocks back to productive farm land. Source: ABC Rural

With seemingly big environmental benefits and tax incentives, blue gums seemed like a good idea back in the late 1990s but many projects collapsed, sending investors broke and nearly sinking Elders Forestry.

But the now cheaper land has opened doors to young farmers keen to get their hands on tightly held south coastal country.

“I just love it here, it’s good livestock country and I just like living here,” said Paul Reddington of Bremer Bay.

The timber has little commercial value and is no longer seen as a viable land use, leaving buyers little choice but to get rid of the trees.

The Reddington family jumped at the chance to purchase a 1000-hectare block of blue gums, covered in more than 800 hectares of trees, just a few kilometres from Bremer Bay town.

“We’re graziers at heart so the objective is to get cattle and sheep running on it as quickly as we can,” said Ken Reddington, Paul’s father.

“It seems a shame to waste a resource but there was no market and no prospect of any.”

One thing the Reddington family was mindful of was the cost of clearing blue gums, which they worked out to be roughly $250 per hectare.

It was no easy task clearing hundreds of hectares of trees at the same time as running a farm. But Ken Reddington said if you want Bremer Bay land, it is what some have to do.

“It’ll be good to see it growing food and fibre again, that’s what we’re about,” he said.

“It’s just one of those phases in agriculture that’s come and gone. It’ll continue I guess where it’s economical but certainly this far from port it’ll be battling to work.”

The 15-year-old trees, ripe for harvesting, have been chained down and pushed into two kilometre long windrows.

Although timber piles are quick to burn, it will be two years before the Reddington family make a full income from this land.

“It’s just a case of lighting it up and being patient and just watching it; we burn when the season is unrestricted and it’s nice and green.”

Paul Reddington does not deny it has been a lot of hard work but he is excited by the prospect of grazing livestock by the coast to occasionally indulge his passion for surfing.

“Being a livestock person and loving the coastal life, it was an opportunity that came up and I decided to take it,” he said.

“If you put a lot into something it’s more rewarding.

“There are a lot of issues that come with buying tree farms when they haven’t been maintained for so long but the blank canvas thing is good.

“There has been some testing moments; it’s been a steep learning curve.

“Sometimes you curse the trees but we’re getting rid of them slowly.”

He joked it could take his lifetime to bring the land back to cropping standard but said he hoped the blue gums would be gone completely within a couple of years.

“The clay has come up with some of the stumps. “I’ve got a surface of the moon to deal with, you could describe it.”