The Australian Forests Growers’ National Conference, currently being held in Albury, has delivered what it promised under this year’s theme “Forestry for a better future: Climate, commerce and communities.”
The tone for the conference was set with an opening keynote address from futures analyst, Barney Foran, an adjunct research fellow with Charles Sturt University’s Institute for Land, Water and Society, who told the conference’s 260 delegates that farm forestry could best contribute to fighting climate change in Australia with large-scale plantings on farm land for use as biofuel.
The Australian Forests Growers, the national association representing the interests of private forest growers, used its annual general meeting at the conference to launch 34 policy statements it identified as important areas for improving the resilience, viability and contribution of the private forestry sector.
“Forest growing helps address climate change,” said AFG president Tony Cannon. “It is important to get the message across that wood products harvested from forests store carbon for the life of the product and that new forests replace those that have been harvested with the result that net atmospheric carbon accumulations fall.”
Cannon said wood was a direct substitute for many emissions intensive products.
“In the building industry, steel, aluminium and concrete, all have a significant emissions profile whereas the production of wood is carbon-neutral,” he said. “In electricity generation and the production of transport fuels, woody biomass represents a carbon-neutral alternative to technologies dependant on fossil fuels.”
Other AFG policy statements addressed the opportunities for bioenergy and biofuel; the need for plantations in the landscape not to be treated any differently to other dryland crops or forms of land management (in terms of water use); and concerns about dangerously high fuel loads in many forests because of a trend towards an overly cautious approach to active fire management.
In his conference presentation Richard Stanton, the Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Plantation Products and Paper Industry Council said plantation interception [of water] had been grossly overstated and was virtually insignificant in terms of water availability for irrigation and the environment in the major water supply catchments. He also said plantation water interception should not be singled out from other land-use changes.
Monday’s conference program also included speakers on the links between forestry and community; and markets and marketing.
“The establishment of large scale plantations leads to some population loss from rural communities but not nearly as much as is often perceived,” said Jacqui Schrimer, a research fellow with ANUs Fenner School of Environment and Society who has been looking at the impacts of farm forestry and plantation forestry on rural population. “It’s actually a much smaller scale population loss with less people shifting off the land than people realise. Farm forestry leads to no population loss.”
Andrew White, CEO, Forest Enterprises Australia Ltd said while there were a lot of hardwood plantation resources coming on the market, new products and new processes were going to be needed to utilise it fully.
“As it is currently we need to look at products that have a domestic and export focus and can operate at scale large-enough to be cost-efficient,” he said. Products that have the potential to be commercially produced from plantation hardwoods are sawn timber, particle board, medium density fibre board, ethanol, power generation, and pellets or briquettes.
Yesterday there were six field trips to farm forests, industrial plantations, harvesting and processing operations, and nurseries, at Tumbarumba, Beechworth, Benalla, Myrtleford, Rutherglen and Holbrook.
The AFG acknowledged that the cost of running its major conference wouldn’t have been possible without the support of its four major sponsors – Nufarm, Visy, the Federal Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry; and the Federal Government’s Joint Venture Agroforestry Program, allowing reasonable registration costs.