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National forestry plan examined

Senator Richard Colbeck

A total of 30 key plantation regions will be created under the Federal Government’s national forestry plan, with farmers playing a big role in planting trees. Source: Philip Hopkins for Timberbiz

The $20 million, four-year plan aims to plant an additional 400,000 hectares of forests – a billion new trees – over the next decade.

It was announced earlier this month by the Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, Senator Richard Colbeck.

Senator Colbeck said the next generation of plantation growth would rely on, and reward, farmers.

“The Government is determined to ensure that we support our farming communities and regional centres, and they will be a centre piece of this forestry industries plan,” he said.

CSIRO research showed that trees in the right places improved crop and stock productivity, and provided other benefits – reducing erosion, reducing salinity, providing windbreaks and enhancing the amenity of the property.

“Working with farmers to secure a long-term ‘wood bank’ … will be an economic win for the farmers and forest industries,” he said.

“At maturity, when the trees have been established in the right quantities and in the right locations, they will provide wood and fibre resources for processing facilities and income for farming families.”

Senaor Colbeck said the native forest sector would remain an important part of the industry. Special timbers from appropriate regions would be harvested ethically to ensure public support.

“There are (also) huge opportunities for indigenous employment on country with harvesting done in sensitive and sustainable manner,” he said.

The larger existing plantations are nestled in key plantation regions such as Tumut and Oberon in New South Wales, Gippsland and Colac in Victoria, Mt Gambier in south Australia, Mayborough in Queensland, Bunbury in Western Australia, and northern and southern Tasmania.

Such areas and others are likely to become regional forestry hubs. The exact location, composition and size of the hubs will be determined in consultation with industry, state and local governments, and other key stakeholders.

They will focus on existing softwood plantation and processing regions with access to transport and markets.

Once established, the hubs will identify new plantation opportunities, ensuring the right trees and planted in the right places, and add value to existing infrastructure and processing capability.

Senator Colbeck said the Government would work with industry and all levels of government to identify infrastructure needs and regulatory barriers. “The plan will determine opportunities and gaps in key regional forestry hubs,” he said.

Transforming farm forestry as a commercial enterprise supplying timber is a key part of the plan. This includes:

  • Undertaking an inventory of farm forestry resources on private land to determine their potential to supply wood for the processing sectors.
  • Working with states and industry to help farmers explore opportunities for expanding farm forestry, creating future wood and fibre supplies, improving linkages with the forestry industries and increasing economic returns to farmers.
  • Ensuring that farm forestry is fully integrated into the existing commercial supply chains.

“The National Farmers Federation’s support for farm forestry … as a supplement to primary agriculture confirms that farmers are poised to support a bigger part of tree growing in our landscape,” he said.

Senator Colbeck said planting a billion new trees over the next decade would sequester an additional 18 megatonnes of carbon dioxide per year by 2030. Also, the Government would:

  • Undertake a review of the water requirements in the Emissions Reduction fund (ERF) farm forestry and plantation methodologies to enable forestry to fully participate in the ERF.
  • Review other legislation, policies and processes that may be unintentionally restricting plantation expansion.

Senator Colbeck said Australia needed more wood because the country’s two million hectare plantation estate had not grown in size in the past 10 years.

Only 0.06% of native forest was harvested and regenerated annually, yet Australia’s population was growing rapidly, and global demand for timber was expected to quadruple by 2050.

Senator Colbeck said apart from housing, technological advances were unlocking new materials derived from trees.

These included engineered wood products, the construction of high-rise buildings entirely out of wood, food additives, pharmaceutical and medical applications, biofuels and wood plastics that can be turned into anything from car components to recyclable replacement plastic bags.

“These new applications for wood and fibre will place even more pressure on Australia’s existing forest resources,” he said.