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VAFI Industry Review 2018

Tim Johnston

Victoria’s plantation estate needs to be increased by about 20% to 500,000 hectares over the next decade, according to one of Victoria’s peak industry bodies. Source: Philip Hopkins for  Timberbiz

Victoria now has about 421,700 hectares of hardwood and softwood plantations, the Victorian Association of Forestry Industries (VAFI) noted in its 2018 Industry Review, released last week. This was the largest plantation area in Australia.

“With the right policy settings, VAFI would like to see a total plantation target area of 500,000 hectares in Victoria of appropriate scale, species and location within 10 years,” the review said. “This could be achieved through a balanced mix of production zones and farm forestry.”

VAFI chief executive, Tim Johnston, said this could cut greenhouse gas emissions, help mitigate salinity, restore landscapes and improve water quality.

Victoria’s plantations have grown from 319,000 ha in 2000 to 421,000 ha now, with 52% being softwood (mainly radiata pine) and 47% hardwood (mainly bluegum).

The review said the economic value of the state’s forestry industry had reached $7.3 billion, with direct employment of 20,000 people and indirectly 40,000-50,000.

The latter included 13,000 in suburban Melbourne who worked in manufacturing such as cabinetry, framing and furniture making.

A total of 9.552 million logs were harvested – 1.28 million hardwood native forest, 3.99 million hardwood plantation and 4.274 million plantation softwood.

The value of logs harvested was $731 million – $108 million native hardwood, $302 million hardwood plantation and $321 million softwood plantation.

Mr Johnston said under the latest Commonwealth and state framework, Victoria’s five 20-year regional forest agreements would be completed by March 2020.

“The period up to March 2020 represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the government to learn from residents and businesses about Victorian forests’ economic, recreational and spiritual values,” he said.

“The perspectives of VAFI members are crucial to delivering the agreed goals of the RFA framework. However effective engagement takes time and any delays in the consultation process will create a risk of communities not being effectively heard.”

He noted that in the past year, the government had introduced new forest management measures. These were reserving about 2500 hectares of the Kuark Forest; protection for large trees more than 2.5 metres in diameter; and a new program of landscape and pre-harvest surveys.

Mr Johnston said on the Leadbeater’s Possum issue, VAFI was encouraged by DELWP’s recommendation to use systematic surveying across all forest tenures and better species modelling.

This would provide a greater understanding of total population numbers. “No further work has been completed to date,” he said.

However, the Federal Government’s threatened species scientific committee in its draft review had retained the possum’s “critically endangered” status.

This was due to the future decline in the possum’s habitat and the likelihood of further catastrophic bushfires in Central Gippsland pointing to a “significant decline in the possum’s population within the next three generations”.

Mr Johnston said research and development would play an increasingly crucial role in forestry from harvesting through to handling and processing.

R&D opportunities in Victoria included:

  •  Forest trials on various harvesting measures.
  • Analysing possible use of other timber species in the market.
  • Exploring GIS spatial technology and mapping of the forest.
  • Trials of new products (different sawing techniques, species).
  • Develop capacity to use wood feedstock for biomaterials to replace plastics.
  • Explore using engineered wood from Victorian timber for low-cost housing.

The review said Victorian forest product exports rose by $113 million (14%) to $833 million in 2016-17. Paper and paperboard exports rose by 10% to $376 million, 45% of forest product exports. Round wood exports increased by 25% to $276 million, about one third of exports.

The export figures excluded woodchip exports due to confidentiality restrictions, lowering the true export figure. The last complete state-level woodchip data from 2012-13 reported an export value of $187 million.