The failure to get more trees into the ground poses a major shortfall for the Latrobe Valleys Australian Paper mill and the native forest timber workers and communities the government hoped to transition into plantation forestry, as it phases out native forest harvesting by 2030.
The government has been trying to find investment partners to establish new plantations, but skyrocketing land prices, machinery and labour shortages have pushed establishment costs to at least $14,000/ha, assuming the government can buy new ground for $10,000/ha.
The government first committed $110m in the 2017 State Budget to establish 50,000ha of plantations – 10,000ha of hardwood and 40,000ha of pine plantations.
By October 2020 then Agriculture Minister Jaclyn Symes had wound back the target to an additional 30 million trees, equal to about 20,000ha to 25,000ha of new plantations.
Now doubts have emerged that even this target cannot be delivered with $110m, even as a subsidy to the private sector to invest in new land and trees.
In late 2020 Ms Symes said “expressions of interest are being sought from experienced and capable plantation investors, developers and managers to invest in Victoria’s future plantations in a way that is sensitive to the environment and local communities, and creates jobs”.
Yet still no announcement has been made on any contracts being struck.
A key consultant to the plantation industry said that given the government had planted just 550ha of new plantations since 2017, it was more realistic to assume it would take at least 20 years to establish 20,000ha of new plantations, especially with land prices at record highs.
Based on ABARES forecasts on Victorian soft and hardwood sawlog and pulp production, plus the establishment of an additional 20,000ha of new plantations, the consultant found Victoria’s overall pulp and sawlog production would fall from 2.3m tonnes today to 1.48m tonnes once native timber harvesting ends in 2030.
“It’ll take 15 years (from planting) for the first thinning of the pine plantations for pulp and 30 years to get sawlogs,” the consultant, who did not wish to be named said.
Agriculture Minister Mary-Anne Thomas was unable to respond by deadline.
Source Peter Hunt | The Weekly Times