Plan­ta­tion deal cause for cel­e­bra­tion and cau­tion

Australian Forests and Timber - - Front Page -

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?

The re­sponse:

"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

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