ANM Forests Pty Ltd, Forest Estate Superintendent. Albury NSW
The first problem I have with this topic is that, to date, industry in Australia has not had to source material from agroforests.
The second problem is to define agroforestry. I was talking to a New Zealand farmer a few years ago. We were standing in a plantation which had been thinned to less than 100 stems per hectare and pruned to 6 metres. When I commented on his agroforest, he said it wasn't agroforestry as his main management goal was to produce high value sawlogs.
However, many of the local farmers who have planted trees under ANM Forests' joint venture scheme, where stocking rates exceed 1200 stems per hectare, consider this to be agroforestry, as they are able to graze sheep and cattle among the trees.
I consider agroforestry to be any combination of agriculture and tree growing.
The final problem is that each industry demands particular species, log sizes and log quality.
For example, a paper mill using Thermo-Mechanical Pulping technology (TMP), prefers P. radiata with average density less than 400 kg of oven dry (OD) fibre per cubic metre. Sawmills and pulp mills using chemical pulping techniques would prefer P. radiata with density greater than 400 kg of OD fibre per cubic metre.
However, for the time being, industry is generally prepared to accept the logs that are available and confine quality selection to features such as log diameter, log straightness and knot diameter
In seeking a concise industry view I posed the question, "What is industry looking for?". One spokesman suggested that the preferred option was that the trees should:
• be straight
• have no branches on the trunk
• have thin bark
• be grown on land less than 15 degree in slope and, most importantly,
• be free
As he did not work in the sawmilling industry, he said that the trees did not have to be square.
In more realistic terms, industry seeks to obtain timber supplies which:
• result in delivered wood costs which are competitive with those paid by producers in overseas countries, as most forest industries must compete with imported products;
• are of a quality which will enable the desired products to be produced;
• are free of contaminants such as nails, wire, horseshoes and bullets.
What does a farmer need to do to meet these goals?
• determine what markets are available locally or in more distant locations for high value products;
• seek information on likely future forest industry developments in the region;
• determine what "commercial" species can be grown on the property and if these would suit industry needs;
• determine what is a minimum economically harvestable quantity for the various industries, i.e. how many hectares need to be planted and what volume might be produced.
Additional cost minimisation is achieved by:
• being located close to industry so that haulage costs can be minimised;
• planting on land which will require low roading costs;
• planting on land which will result in low harvesting costs, i.e. land less than 18o in slope;
• planting sufficient area of land to reduce costs of contractor equipment transfer per tonne of logs. The minimum area to be planted will vary, depending on the harvesting system being used;
• developing agroforestry systems to reduce the cost of production per tonne of logs as the livestock enterprise can ease the interest burden;
• planting the best quality genetic material available for lower establishment costs (due to lower initial stocking rates), lower silvicultural costs and maximum production of valuable logs. This genetic material may be the result of breeding programs or be collected from outstanding native populations.
In addition to the potential value from timber production, agroforestry plantings can provide a range of additional benefits including:
• shelter for stock and crops
• lowered water tables which will help to overcome salinity problems
• provision of wildlife habitat
• control of soil erosion caused by wind and water
Agroforestry in Australia is in its infancy and many farmers do not have the necessary information needed when choosing which species to grow. However, there is great scope in this region and in many other parts of Australia for commercial tree growing to be fully integrated with agriculture.
In Australia, the farming community has spent the last 100 years or more removing trees to enhance the productive capacity of their properties. The clearing has proved to be excessive over large areas of our farming land and farmers are now faced with the expensive job of replacing a proportion of the original tree cover.
The CSIRO has estimated that up to 15% of the Murray-Darling Basin will have to be replanted to trees to assist in the reversal of salinity and other land degradation problems.
In many northern hemisphere countries, a substantial number of farmers obtain income from forests and woodlots on their properties. These farmers are fortunate in that most species growing naturally on their farms are commercially valuable and industries have been developed to utilise this existing renewable resource.
However, in Australia it will be necessary for farmers to develop sufficient resource to attract industries to the region. I believe that the Landcare groups will be the organisations to coordinate individual farmer efforts. The groups will, of course, need to liaise with farmer and industry organisations.
The basic planning unit will be the whole farm plan. The farm plan will identify the areas on each farm that will be replanted with native or exotic species. When considering what areas to develop for commercial forestry, farmers should be aware of any 'protected' land on their property. This is usually land within 20 metres of a stream or drainage line, land generally over 18o in slope and other "sensitive" areas. Even though a farmer may have planted the trees on this land, he will have to apply to the Department of Conservation and Land Management (formerly Soil Conservation Service) for approval to harvest any trees growing on these lands. I suggest that tree plantings for wildlife, landscape and shelter be concentrated on this type of land.
Landowners should also be aware that some Shire Councils require commercial tree growers to obtain development approval. The grower must submit a development application with the prescribed fee before commencing any work.
As tree growing is a long-term venture, it can be very difficult to pick a winner as consumer demand and processing technology changes over time. Recent innovations which may enable small trees to be used for high value products include 'Scrimber' and 'Valwood'.
Scrimber is formed after small diameter logs are crushed or 'scrimbed' before being formed into large dimension material using adhesives and high pressure. The first plant has been built in South Australia. However, the plant has recently been forced to close as it could not produce a suitable quality end product. Investment in the plant totalled $66 million.
The Valwood system involves the sawing of small or defective logs into small end sections (150 mm x 300 mm or less). These are dried and glued to form larger pieces for furniture manufacture. Some of the more decorative eucalypts may be particularly suitable for this process. It is yet to reach the commercial development stage.
Recycling will impact on the markets that are available for the smaller and lower grade logs that may be suitable for paper manufacture. For example, the use of recycled fibre (RCF) at ANM Limited's Albury newsprint mill will result in round log intake being cut from 500,000 tonnes per annum to 230,000 tonnes (54% drop) within two years.
This change has meant that all growers of P. radiata in the region, including ANM Forests, will have to review their silvicultural strategies.
Most plantation growers have aimed to maximise sawlog production from their plantations with little expenditure on pruning. Pulpwood is produced from the small and poorly formed trees, which are removed to allow the better trees to mature. Growers may now have to plant at reduced stockings and undertake waste thinning and pruning to produce large sawlogs with minimal pulpwood production.
As a result of the adoption of recycling technology, ANM Forests' planting rate will fall from 600 hectares to 150 hectares per annum. However, the planting will shift from broad scale plantation development to woodlot planting on farmland which has a land degradation problem (e.g. dryland salinity). This will be an advantage for many farmers in the Albury region.
Many trees which have been planted for commercial purposes in this region do not yet have an available market. Markets will only develop if there is a demand for particular wood products and if suitable species are available in sufficient quantities and long-term supply to enable a competitive industry to be developed.
However, as the extremist preservation groups, which are currently campaigning across Australia, succeed in confining logging to smaller and smaller areas of native forest, there may be increasing scope for timber produced from agroforests to fill the gap, particularly for larger defect (knot) free logs.
To maximise the opportunities for agroforestry development, executives from forest industries and farmer organisations must begin to develop long-term plans at national and state level to facilitate greater industry/farmer cooperation, perhaps via joint venture programs.
Government also has a role to play, not so much in the provision of incentives, but to remove obstructions to commercial farm forestry development.
I believe that commercial forest development will be a cornerstone of the Federal Government's Ecological Sustainable Development (ESD) strategy. The integration of commercial forestry and farming activities will be an essential ingredient in the final policy development.