According to tropical forestry expert Simon Penfold, the project being undertaken by Forestlands Consulting and financially assisted by the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation and Forest and Wood Products Australia will be reviewing the potential of forestry activity to support economic and social outcomes in the Kimberley, Northern Territory and in Far North Queensland.
“Our project followings the completion of a preliminary review of the hardwood plantation sector in tropical Australia and an examination of current issues, future prospects and development challenges facing forestry in the region.”
“Among other things we will be paying close attention to the opportunities for tree plantation expansion and related wood processing development,” said Mr Penfold.
Director of Forestlands Consulting John Halkett said the project team had now completed an initial round of on-the-ground consultation with key stakeholders, including government agencies, researchers, private forestry companies, land councils and technical forestry experts.
“Notwithstanding that commercial forestry enterprises across tropical Australia have been badly affected by the uncertainty associated with a number of managed investment scheme based agribusiness companies had been placed in administration, the prospects for further economically robust plantation activity in parts of northern Australia were promising.”
“Commercially-sound tree plantation opportunities, especially on indigenous-owned land, appear to exist with the potential to make a valuable contribution to economic, social and employment objectives. These opportunities include ‘new generation’ tree crops and related products, including bio-energy, essential oils and other chemicals,” said Mr Halkett.
Noted forest scientist John Turner adds that plantation forestry in a tropical context is much more demanding than in temperate regions. “In addition to major considerations such as land suitability and environmental impacts, technical issues like species selection, soil nutrition, water availability, weed and termite control, critical mass, wood processing, distance to markets and infrastructure collectively present challenges for researches and managers.
“However, there is a growing confidence in some species and tropical forestry projects. For example, with further concerted research effort and sound management, African mahogany and Eucalyptus pellita plantations will be capable of supplying medium density, hardwood timber products at competitive prices,” says Dr Turner.
Mr Halkett says the project team is close to finalising an in-depth background review paper and is advanced in the planning of a Northern Australia Forestry Forum for key stakeholders. This Forum will be held in Cairns in April next year.