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WA pine plantation owners blindsided by BP sale to Ents Forestry

Landowners who have pine plantation contracts with BP Kwinana Refinery say they were blindsided when they found out the contracts were being taken over by Ents Forestry. Sources: Farm Weekly, Timberbiz

Ents is a forest management and consulting company that has taken on 107 contracts from BP. The plantation covers about 2300 to 2400 hectares, stretching from Williams to Wellstead, Western Australia.

The contracts are based on a share farming arrangement, where landowners are responsible for maintaining fences, gates, fire prevention and vermin control, while BP was responsible for maintaining the trees, including pruning, trimming and thinning, fertiliser application and insect control.

BP contracted the Forest Products Commission (FPC) to manage the plantation and take care of any maintenance up until 2014.

Under the agreement, harvest revenue involved 70% going to BP and 30% to landowners.

The plantations were established about 25 years ago and most had a term of about 40 years, depending on the contract.

Throughout this time, landowners have said they received very little communication from BP, or FPC on behalf of BP, in regards to the upkeep of the plantations.

As a result, the landowners allege some plantations are now in a state of disarray, including many trees appearing dead on some properties. And landowners said they had no idea of the contract being taken over by Ents Forestry until they received a letter from the company notifying them of that.

“BP (had) assigned its rights to forest management company, Ents Forestry,” the letter from Ents Forestry wrote.

“BP has recently reviewed its forestry business, in particular the pine project in the western and southern Wheatbelt established in the last 1990s into 2000s and, according to our records, on your property the review concluded that the project no longer aligns with BP business or company strategy.”

About two weeks later, landowners received a letter from BP confirming the change.

Farm Weekly obtained one of the contracts between a landowner and BP, where it stated “the grantee (BP) must not assign its interest or any part of its interest in this deed to any other person without prior written consent to the owner”.

A BP spokesperson confirmed that the company had engaged Ents Forestry to take over its pine plantation interests under a deed of assignment.

“BP is working with Ents Forestry and affected landowners to support the transfer, which aims to understand asset opportunities and deliver value to landowners,” the spokesperson said.

Ents Forestry managing director Andy Wright said the company acknowledged that there was concern from landowners, but they would aim to return the plantations back to production levels wherever possible.

Ents Forestry has identified both domestic and export markets for the pine wood.

WA Liberal Party member for the Agricultural Region and forestry spokesman Steve Martin is a farmer from Wickepin whose family farming company has nine plantations under contract.

He said he has had several conversations with “fired up constituents” on the issue.