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Support packages ready for fire affected timber producers

Scott Morrison

Federal Government support packages of up to $75,000 for primary producers affected by the bushfire crisis have been welcomed by the nation’s timber industry bodies. Both the Australian Forest Products Association, Institute of Foresters of Australia and the Australian Forest Growers, have thrown their support behind the package. Source: Timberbiz

“We will do whatever it takes to support those communities and businesses hit by these fires, and if we need to do more, we will,” the Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.

“I need to stress this is an uncapped program so if demand for support goes above $100 million, money will continue to flow.

“As the scale of the damage becomes apparent, it is clear that our farm, our fish and forest businesses need support and along with communities who depend on them, we will help them rebuild and we will continue to back them,’’ he said.

“This funding will support primary producers to access essentials like fodder and water, while also help rebuild fencing or hire vital agricultural equipment like water pumps, irrigation systems, horticultural netting and generators.”

The Government will also provide $15 million to fund 60 additional rural financial counsellors and support workers.

Vice-President of the Institute of Foresters of Australia and Australian Forest Growers (IFA/AFG), Dr Kevin Harding, said the scale of the current bushfire emergency in terms of the number of bushfires, their overall magnitude of size and severity and their spread around every state jurisdiction of Australia presented enormous challenges to rural communities.

“Our members appreciate the response of firefighters, governments, volunteers and professional land managers to resource the immediate need to support fire control and suppression activities,” Dr Harding said.

“However, the rebuilding efforts needed to bring these communities and regions back to a level of functional normalcy as quickly as possible is also important. It will be assisted by the grants of up to $75,000 to support farming, forestry and other businesses in fire-impacted regions.

AFPA CEO Ross Hampton said Federal Government was to be congratulated for moving quickly to assist farm-based forestry.

Forestry was an important part of many farming operations and a small but important component in Australia’s wood supply covering native forestry hardwoods and also plantation timbers, Mr Hampton said.

“It is important that farmers are encouraged to continue in their forestry operations and indeed to expand where it makes sense,’’ he said.

“The forest industry nationally has been hit very hard by the bushfires and we look forward to further announcements by the Government which will help deal with the enormous challenges we will face to rebuild, regrow and renew.

“The support will help get forestry operators back on their feet and re-establish their businesses.  We need to make sure that regional communities that have been hit hard by the bushfires are given every chance to re-build and keep jobs and businesses going.”

Dr Harding said forestry plantations and native forest management on farms was a long-term investment providing important economic resilience to farmers in times of drought, flooding and other weather induced loss of other crops or livestock.

“It takes around a decade to produce a harvest of pulpwood products to supply paper and cardboard packaging products and 25-30+ years to produce construction grade sawn boards that provide long-term carbon sequestration when used for building and construction projects,’’ he said.

“High quality native hardwood species often require 50-80 years to produce very valuable furniture and engineering grade products. Bushfires often impact forests so severely that the wood quality is greatly diminished and the trees need to be salvage harvested rapidly so that their wood does not deteriorate to the point where it is no longer useful for wood or fibre products.”

Dr Kevin Harding, who is spokesman for small private forest grower members of the IFA/AFG professional body which merged in 2019, said members impacted by these current fires will need to rapidly assess damage and organise salvage harvests to preserve the quality of their timber and to minimise their losses.

“Some will have lost vital plant and equipment and some small private foresters will need to build road access for these salvage harvests. The grants announced today are appreciated as they will assist these farm foresters and small-scale rural investors.’’