Bold plan to breathe new life into SW timber industry

ffl

SW? As in south west Western Australia!

Just like the rest of Australia the logging of public native forests in south west Western Australia has been a battle ground for decades, with the forest industry now on its last legs needing continuous Government support.

The local forest conservation group the Western Australian Forest Alliance has come up with a plan to rebuild the forest industry and create jobs. The Plan is called Forests for Life.

http://forestsforlife.org.au/the-plan/

Normally I would be a bit sceptical of any industry plan developed by environmentalists, and from my reading the FFL plan certainly has some weaknesses.

What I do like though is that the broader community are getting behind the Plan, including the local Augusta/Margaret River Council.

http://www.amrshire.wa.gov.au/news/media-releases/1005/bold-plan-to-breathe-new-life-into-sw-timber-industry/

Here at last is the community taking the lead, showing initiative, adopting a positive attitude and working together.

This I like!!

The question now is will the forest industry and the WA State government get behind and support the Plan. The Western Australian Farmers Federation also needs to be brought on board to help give the Plan some economic credibility and community support.

I’ve already seen the potential for growing Tasmanian blackwood in SW Western Australia:

https://blackwoodgrowers.com.au/2015/11/11/blackwood-in-western-australia/

Imagine this happening here in Tasmania?

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8 responses to “Bold plan to breathe new life into SW timber industry

  1. What do you think are weaknesses in the plan, Gordon?

  2. Hi David,

    I admit I’ve only had time for a cursory look at the Plan but what I saw basically said they were expecting the taxpayer to pay for the tree planting. Wrong!!

    Remember my maxim: The only basis for a successful forest industry is profitable tree growers.

    See if you can find the word “profit” in the Plan at all. Or any mention of markets, supply, demand, costs, prices, etc.

    I think SW WA is a great place for growing timber, but after the disaster of the MIS decades we need to be extra diligent that we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past.

    I did see mention about growing construction-grade timber. I would be very wary of such an idea. I doubt very much whether there is any profit to be made growing wood for construction.

    The Plan needs more work, and the more participants in the process the greater the chance of success, especially people who understand economics and business – like real farmers!!

    Cheers

    Gordon

    • I think the guy in Sth Gippsland I mentioned in an earlier comment was milling his pine and selling it for construction. From speaking to some sawmillers there’s a small market in Sth Gippsland and Melbourne for durable species (exotics and natives) construction timber. This sells for good prices. Could this market be larger with some marketing push? Dunno. And there’s again a small market for large regnans and globulus beams.

      On that topic, Leech did a report on specialist markets for large native forests sawlogs a while ago:

      http://www.forestrytas.com.au/assets/0000/0562/Leech_report_to_TCFA_Research_Implementation_Committee.pdf

      I emailed him for some more info around these markets but didn’t get anything back.

  3. Hi David,

    If they are just small markets I’d like to see some indicative stumpage prices to make the picture clearer. Maybe they also represent potential export markets as well but further info is needed.

    One of the biggest obstacles to the Plan is the anti-competitive behaviour of the State forest agencies.

    Cheers

    Gordon

    • Sort of millgate numbers bandied around are over $100/m3 to over $200/m3 for durable (Class 2 durability) eucs and cupressus sawlogs with cupressus more at the lower end of this range and prices as usual sensitive to sawlog diameter and quality.

      regnans is a bit confusing. VicForests were getting up to $200/m3 for good sized premium grade ash sawlogs a few years ago. But for plantation ash sawlogs the prices seem to be around $100/m3. I don’t understand why a reasonable sized plantation sawlog couldn’t get as high a price as a similar native forest sawlog. Or even higher from markets that prefer farm grown timber. I thought all the stuff about more difficult to mill etc was dealt with a few years ago in various trials. This is directly relevant to us as we can grow big ash fast. But there’s no point if we can only sell them for $100/m3. IMO once you get $150/m3 upwards at millgate this means there is enough left for the small farm grower after harvesting and transport costs to make it worthwhile. But more is better 🙂

  4. A plan based upon creating enough plantation resource to sustain a commercial engineered wood products industry for SW WA. Very different to small scale farm forestry with species such as blackwood!

  5. It will be interesting to see how they propose to handle scale. Harvesting and cartage costs in industrial forestry are sensitive to amortising the cost of floating the equipment over site harvest m3 and truck size used to take logs to the mill. So foresters trained in industrial forestry tend to want larger farm plantings of, say, 20 hectares upwards. Less than 20 hectares is lifestyle forestry as one forester I know opined 🙂

    But farmers don’t necessarily want to tie up that much land and pay what can be significant establishment costs. Although if the establishment costs are covered by the WA Gov this is less relevant. But industrial foresters tend to want high initial stem counts which also leads to increased thinning costs. Should be able to use better genetics to reduce the need for thinning. Smaller blocks can be established with greater or lesser involvement by the farmer (cheaper) and don’t alienate as much land. And smaller coops can be harvested using onfarm kit. One agroforestry co-operative I visited in Austria had 900 members – from memory – with coops down to less than a hectare.

    What will work in Australia? All about what the cockie can earn from the wood. If I was a SW WA farmer considering this program I would be pushing for an offtake agreement with a firm stumpage with CPI or similar escalation. In a program like this, why should the farmer carry all the growing risk over decades without some guarantee of a return at the end?

    • Like I said, still plenty of work to be done to build a solid business plan for this and avoid the disasters of the past.

      Keeping it out of the hands of financial advisers would be a good start.

      But it is very clear to me that neither the Government nor the forest industry are capable of running such a venture by themselves. The more people who have a stake in it the better.

      Cheers

      Gordon

      PS. Much of the better land in SW WA are lifestyle landowners, so small scale high value forestry is the only option.

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