Plantation deal cause for celebration and caution
THE RECENT announcement by the Victorian Government that it will spend $110 million on plantations is a great cause for celebration and shows great leadership for investment in a renewable resource, according to Rob de Fégely, Director of Margules Groome Consulting. "However, there is also a need for significant caution," he added.
"Previous plantation development by governments and industry have been contentious and if ever the lessons of history are important they are absolutely critical with this announcement.
"The establishment of softwood plantations ran into problems over clearing of natural forests in the 1980s Australiawide. When clearing it stopped in Victoria and the Government announced initiatives to buy cleared farmland for plantations the negative response from communities and farmers was so intense it resulted in the State Plantations Impact Study of 1990 which signalled the end of government funded softwood plantations in Victoria. There are lessons here for all governments," said Mr de Fégely.
"The more recent initiatives to establish plantations with managed investment schemes were ultimately a disaster.
"The industry must not repeat these mistakes and so, in my opinion, we must hasten cautiously," said Mr de Fégely.
He said the idea of developing plantations sounded so very simple but it was actually quite difficult to achieve.
"There are many challenges, including:
• Location is critical but land use change cannot be forced without community and social impact
• Government investment structures are also important but the current restriction under the Carbon Farming Initiative for planting above the 600mm rainfall zone is a massive disincentive.
• Plantations have much higher inputs than natural production forests and so are more expensive to establish and manage
• Plantations are monocultures and are less resilient to pests and disease than natural production forests
• Planting scale is generally considered an imperative by industry but with today’s technology and systems I believe that this can be overcome. Future plantations need to be established in the right place for markets and at the right scale for the growers to manage and the community to accept.
"Developing a long term view is also important and sadly this announcement will not help solve the current problems of sawlog supply to the Heyfield sawmill," Mr de Fégely said, "however, the development of a mixture of softwood and hardwood plantations could develop an enduring renewable resource that will create wealth for Victorians for many years to come."
Mr de Fégely, who is also President of the Institute of Foresters of Australia, CoChair of the Commonwealth Governments Forest Industry Advisory Council and Chair of the board of Forestry Tasmania, says the obvious benefits for regional Victoria and the Latrobe Valley in particular will be significant and long lasting.
"So, any government that is prepared to invest in renewable resources like wood should be wholeheartedly congratulated but it is critical that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past," Mr de Fégely said
The Australian Forest Products Association
The development of a mixture of softwood and hardwood plantations could develop an enduring renewable resource that will create wealth for Victorians for many years to come
has given the Victorian Government plantation move the thumbs up, saying it welcomed the Victorian Government’s $110 million investment in the 201718 Budget to establish plantations in the Latrobe Valley.
"This commitment is consistent with AFPA’s strategic plan for the expansion of Australia’s plantation estate, which identified Morwell in the Latrobe Valley as an ideal region for a plantation hub," said AFPA CEO Ross Hampton.
"AFPA has had preliminary discussions
with the Victorian Government about how industry can be involved in the design and delivery of this significant investment, and we look forward to working with Minister Pulford to ensure that that this investment is directed towards projects that help grow our sustainable industry and the tens of thousands of regional jobs we support.
"Softwood and hardwood plantations provide more than 80% of the wood fibre and timber for our national forest product industries, adding $778 million to the Victorian economy last year. However, despite strong demand for wood fibre domestically and abroad, investment in new plantations in Australia has effectively come to a standstill," Mr Hampton said.
One industry insider was also of the opinion that caution was definitely the key at the moment, and spoke of a number of failed government ventures in the past 20 years.
One in particular was the Farm Forestry North East (FFORNE) project (partnered with land owners to set up plantations with owners paying $600700/ha and government establishing it for them). About 1500 hectares was established between 199698 ... many of the FFORNE projects died or have been sitting with no market prospect and as a result many angry owners.
Another was the Plantations for Salinity (which gave land owners $600-700/ha towards a plantation) when it was widely accepted that Gippsland had virtually no salinity problems.
"I think that the government needs to step very carefully as it spends this $110 million."
From the government side everything was being played close to the chest. Australian Forests and Timber News put the following questions to the government:
The possible site/s for expansion?
Who will oversee this project?
Does it mean a special taskforce will be required (if so, when will it be formed and what will the makeup be)?
Will this come under the auspices of VicForests?
What is the timeframe for the project?
"We are committed to supporting the long-term sustainability of local jobs in the timber and wood products industry and that's why we will invest $110 million to establish more plantations.
"This is the first step towards expanding timber plantations in Gippsland.
"The Government will work in conjunction with industry to expand Victoria’s plantation estate and increase the proportion of plantation-grown timber available to this important industry," ... all attributable to a Government spokesperson.
It can only be hoped that the lessons of the past have been learned!
Rob de Fégely