The forest industry in Tasmania is heading towards oblivion, at least the part of the industry dependent on the public native forest resource. Decades of poor policy, politics and conflict have reduced the industry to a smoking ruin. But we seem to have trouble learning from past mistakes and from other people’s successes. Getting people to invest in the forest industry (from planting trees to investing in sawmilling and processing equipment) just won’t happen under the current regime. So here is my one dozen wish list:
- We need to start thinking of forestry as a primary industry and not as a Government-run, politically-driven, employment program. Sure it has a few unique features like a long investment time lag, but forestry is about business and profits; markets, costs and prices. It is not about politics or employment! Most wood now grown and sold in Australia comes from private tree growers. It is time to put the policy focus on private growers.One example of this change in focus would be to move Private Forests Tasmania (PFT) from the Department of State Growth Tasmania to the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment (DPIPWE). At the moment this DPIPWE website contains no mention of forestry at all:http://dpipwe.tas.gov.au/agricultureWhy isn’t forestry regarded as a primary industry in Tasmania?
Also the Government Minister responsible for PFT/DPIPWE should also be responsible for Forestry Tasmania, so that all commercial forest policy and practice is aligned with primary industry policy. Does that sound logical or what?
- And like all primary industries the only basis for a successful forest industry is for tree growing (public and private) to be transparently profitable.That’s the golden rule! It’s that simple!Commercially focused, profitable tree growers are the foundation of a successful forest industry. The forest industry is not about subsidizing the sawmillers, papermakers, or woodchippers, or the furniture makers, craftsmen, luthiers or boatbuilders. These people are important, but without profitable tree growers they are irrelevant. Forest industry policy should be focused on profitable tree growers.
- We need to get the politics and conflict out of the industry. That means either a) completely transforming Forestry Tasmania into an independent, fully commercial, profitable business, or b) shutting down public native forest logging. There are no other options!
- Public and private tree growers must be able to compete in the marketplace on a level playing field. This means no more subsidies or political protection for public tree growers. Forestry Tasmania must be structured and managed just like a private tree grower – independent, fully commercial and profitable. Anything else is anti-competitive.
- The Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association (TFGA) needs to become a genuine independent, vigorous advocate for private forest growers. The interests of private forest growers are not the same as those of sawmillers, or Forestry Tasmania nor the Government of the day. A thriving commercially competitive, profitable forest industry can only exist when private tree growers have a strong, fearless, independent voice.
- It’s time for the forest industry (and I’m talking about everyone here from tree growers to wood processors and log exporters) to publically demonstrate some real commercial muscle. Where are the profits? Where are the prices? Where are the markets? Where is the transparency and market feedback? For far too long the industry has focused on political muscle. It’s time to “put the rubber to the road” and lead by commercial example.
- Unlike many other primary industry markets, Australia’s forestry markets have historically been opaque to near invisible, and continue to be that way. Hidden markets do not encourage investment in planting and infrastructure. The forest industry in New Zealand issues regular monthly market reports. This helps everyone better understand the marketplace. We desperately need similar transparency in forestry markets here in Australia.
- To help overcome the natural reluctance of many people to make the long-time investment in forestry (the time between planting and harvesting), the industry needs to be incredibly (aggressively??) transparent in the marketplace. This means lots of market reports and updates, lots of price and demand information, etc. We need significant market stimulation to help landowners get past the big time factor!!
- Farmers need to have greater understanding and confidence in forestry markets. Again this requires forestry markets to be much more transparent and commercially focused; just like other rural commodities. Investing in forestry is not easy. There’s the technical stuff and the long investment period, and just the switch to thinking “long term”. When we start getting forestry market updates in the rural media then I will know that the forest industry has come of age.
- The forest industry needs a new Forest Practices Code, or rather it doesn’t. Let me explain.The forest industry in New Zealand is huge (bigger than Australia’s) and very successful, but New Zealand does not have a Forest Practices Code. Imagine that! In New Zealand they regard the forest industry as just another primary industry, which must abide by the same code of environmental practice as all the other primary industries. It’s called a level playing field.The code is called the Resource Management Act 1991, and it applies to most primary industries. It is designed to protect environmental values regardless of land use. So growing trees for wood production has the same regulatory framework as other primary land uses. A brilliant idea!Here in Tasmania the forest industry is far and away the most (over?) regulated primary industry in the State. This creates market distortions and discourages sensible land use and investment decisions.Forest plantations on already cleared land should be no more or less regulated that any other agricultural crop. For many Tasmanians that will be a very difficult thing to imagine after the MIS hardwood plantation disaster.
(And whilst on the subject of New Zealand, the forest industry there survives without any resource security. That’s right! Whatever trees the private forest growers have to sell is the only resource available to industry. That’s all. If a sawmiller wants “resource security” then they need to pay a competitive price to stay in business. The issue of “resource security” is a furphy!)
- And following on from the previous item, why do we have Private Timber Reserves in Tasmania?http://www.pft.tas.gov.au/index.php/services/services/1-website-articleWhy not Private Onion Reserves, Private Poppy Reserves, Private Cow Reserves or Private Apple Reserves? In fact why not make all primary industries subject to a single Statewide planning system? Wouldn’t that be fairer? We could even call it the Resource Management Act!
- And finally I’d like to see Tasmanian farmers incorporate commercial blackwood growing into their business models (either plantation or native bush), developing the skills, passion and expertise in growing this iconic quality Tasmanian product. But this won’t happen to any extent unless change occurs within the forest industry and Government policy.
When you compare my wish list with the current forest industry you can see an enormous abyss. Current forest policy is focused on a public native forest resource, a bankrupt, non-commercial public forest manager, a handful of taxpayer-subsidised sawmillers and processors, and enormous amounts of politics and community conflict. It has been this way for decades!
It seems that none of this will change unless the TFGA (on behalf of private forest growers) start demanding reform. And based on recent events I can’t see this happening any time soon.
What do you think? Comments? Continue reading