Capturing Industry Involvement in Farm Forestry Extension
GHG Management Pty Ltd, PO Box 574 East Maitland,
NSW 2323. Australia.
Industry involvement in Australian farm forestry extension as participants and sponsoring agents has been limited to date, mostly due to the lack of perceived commercial benefit returned to the industry investor from such activities. Current industry involvement in farm forestry extension has included contribution to Landcare and National Heritage Trust projects, participation in regional committees and events such as the Agroforestry Expos as well as some involvement in local field days and Master TreeGrower Programs.
Industry has been heavily involved in farm forestry extension where:
- industry is acquiring land for plantation development
- industry is asked to justify its on-site actions and activities
- promotional benefits appear to be justified ie. sponsorship and participation in high attendance events
Industry will be defined for the purposes of this discussion as those involved in commercial business associated with forests and forestry for wood and non wood products, agricultural and forestry consultants, processors, contractors, marketers, brokers, exporters and transporters to name a few.
Industry has been slow to adopt farm forestry as a credible player due to:
- lack of industry understanding of farm forestry
- lack of confidence in farm forestry as an industry
- lack of obvious commercial focus of farm forestry
- lack of market information regarding farm forestry participation and players
- lack of knowledge of additional benefits of farm forestry
- fragmentation of farm forestry participation
- breadth of farm forestry participation
In other words, farm forestry is confusing to industry.
If the participants in farm forestry finally decide on a sound definition for what they believe farm forestry is, the industry will probably be ready to listen. How is industry supposed to understand what farm forestry is, if those who are doing it can’t agree?
Farm Forestry as an Industry
Is farm forestry an industry? Can farm forestry be segmented from, or attached to other forms of agricultural production? If so, does it have a voice or identity? Who are the public faces of farm forestry? What are the agendas?
These questions highlight the fact that farm forestry is regarded as an addendum to existing industrial players in both agriculture, forestry and perhaps other areas.
The Commercial Focus of Farm Forestry
If farm forestry was a credible commercial pursuit, statistics of production with associated figures of landholders, areas of production under trees, by species should be readily available. Since the nature of farm forestry need not be entirely focussed upon commercial returns, industry will logically ask; what’s in it for us? Since farm forestry is considered a new movement (even though it isn’t) industry is prepared to wait until some strategic strengths appear in the marketplace.
Other Benefits of Farm Forestry
If commercial timber benefits are not readily quantifiable, what are the other non-wood products and/or benefits that farm forestry can produce for industry to exploit and commercialise? These non-wood products need to also be quantifiable and standardised so that commercial values may be determined and trading may occur between parties.
Certainly there has been strong support for the planting and growing of trees in the past, and industrial companies such as BP and Toyota has been innovative in investing in some of these projects. These projects however, have been to the fringe of the farm forestry movement.
An examination of the list of sponsors of Landcare Australia (see Appendix 1) demonstrates that investment in non commercial outcomes is receiving greater attention by large multinational organizations (Landcare 2001)
The Farm Forestry Movement
Farm forestry is not yet perceived as an industry, rather it is seen as a movement. Like a political or religious wave, the leaders of farm forestry are heralded with the waving of the flag of the eucalypt, pine and wattle with the fervour of Ricki Lake fans. But industry is not interested in Jimmy and Tammy Bakker fans unless there’s a dollar left in it for industry.
The Farm Forestry Marketplace
The reality of the Australian farm forestry marketplace is that it is a large and growing market. Approximately 700 individuals have been involved in the Australian Master TreeGrower Program (Uni of Melb, 1999). The Australian Forest Growers Association (AFG, 2001) have 1387 members, the majority of whom are (alleged) growers of less than 100 hectares of trees according to the following divisions:
Table 1. Membership of Australian Forest Growers (AFG, 2001)
No. of Members
Small treefarmer/farm forester
Up to 20
Medium treefarmer or grower
Subscribers (not growers)
As a new movement, farm forestry is attracting new investment from non-traditional landholders seeking multiple benefit pursuits for a variety of reasons.
Indicators to support this growth include the Australian Master TreeGrower Website which is presently averaging between 5,000 and 6,000 hits per week (Uni of Melb, July 2001), up from 827 in February 1998.
Figure 1: Server Usage – Australian Master TreeGrower Website.
Elite Farm Forestry
For industry to capitalise on the emergence of this new marketplace, distinct market segments should be identifiable, locatable and quantifiable, depending upon the needs of the industry participants. Naturally most industry participants will seek to service the needs of the elite farm forestry players in terms of:
- Consistency of quality
- Reliability of production
- Certifiable product
- Value added product
- Ease of accessibility and communication
The identity of the elite farm forestry players is also crucial for the farm forestry movement to recognise in order to capitalise on internal existing strengths and opportunities.
Characteristics of the elite farm foresters might include:
- high disposable income, probably from off-farm sources
- strong interest in the land and sustainable land management
- interest in growing trees commercially
- long term investment perspective
- commitment to high quality management of trees (value adding)
- diversified agricultural and other investment portfolio
- interest in new potential markets and products.
The elite farm forester, might also be considered the first step champion after the primary innovator, the latter of whom may not have the resources to invest, in order to grow the farm forestry business to a commercial scale.
The Problem for Industry
The present attitude of industry to farm forestry is one of reservation, since most farm foresters are not part of this elite group. Most landholders who are involved in farm forestry fall outside this set of characteristics describing the elite farm forester.
The Opportunity for Industry
Despite the present lack of data available for farm forestry participation, production and profitability, it is recognised that farm forestry is gaining momentum. More and more landholders are establishing trees on their properties, or managing the existing trees for a variety of reasons and potential benefits. In addition, farm forestry is gaining improved recognition in the urban and semirural communities, where indeed urban forestry is also becoming recognised. The multiple benefits of farm forestry are being better understood by a wider range of audiences, a fact which fares well for the development of a movement into an industry.
How Does Farm Forestry Become an Industry?
Whilst farm forestry is recognised as a positive movement in Australia, it is the farm forestry community that needs to express itself as an industry. Farm forestry can do this by:
- marketing the vision
- providing reliable statistics for resource, process, product and profit
- differentiating farm forestry from forestry
- promoting new and high value products from farms
- developing a cooperative and consolidated marketing strategy
- developing and marketing a brand or market identity
The farm forestry community is alive and well with its characters and personalities, but who is the current face of farm forestry, the enigma, the dude. Dare we suggest that perhaps farm forestry needs a “Big Kev” to tell the industry that “I’m excited”.
Conclusion: Capturing Industry Involvement in Farm Forestry Extension
For industry to want to participate in any type of event, commercial returns and other benefits must be apparent. The farm forestry movement must therefore be prepared to sell itself in order to communicate these benefits to industry. In order for farm forestry to have an industry selling point, figures must be available to justify certain investment by external parties. These figures may then be supplemented through the provision of other benefits which may or may not have a perceived commercial value in the marketplace. Farm forestry must be prepared to commit to some serious sole searching in order to determine the best mechanism for encouraging industry investment into farm forestry extension.
1. AFG, 2001 Australian Forest Growers Website http://www.afg.asn.au/
2. Landcare Australia, 2001. Landcare Australia Website http://www.landcareaustralia.com.au/GoodBusiness/default.htm
3. University of Melbourne, 2001 Australian Master TreeGrowers Website http://www.unimelb.edu.au/stats/mtg/g-index.html
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