Over the last 10 to 15 years forestry plantation estates in Australia have increased in area by almost 50%. Much of this expansion can be attributed to new private-sector investment in sub-tropical and tropical Eucalypt plantations driven in part by favourable changes in taxation law and an increasing national and global demand for high quality sawn timber. While Australia has historically been a key exporter of hardwoods sourced from native forests, the development of a sub-tropical hardwood plantation industry has proven problematic. An array of factors, including long crop rotations that are sometimes in excess of 20 - 35 years, considerable production risks such as fires, cyclones, endemic and exotic pests and diseases, limited land availability and high establishment cost, have collectively undermined the economic viability of the sector. Producing high quality logs also comes with high-cost silvicultural practices that necessitate early plantation estate thinning to remove low quality trees, and pruning to improve log quality by minimising knots and defects. As a result, the profitability of the sub-tropical and tropical plantation hardwood sector in Australia is questionable. In the first 15 years of production up to three quarters (700 trees per hectare) of the hardwood plantation is removed through pruning and thinning processes. Currently, there are few if any identified viable markets for these small diameter low-grade trees termed ‘thinnings’. If new products that make use of thinnings could be identified, it could provide important early financial returns to the industry. Turning current commercial forest wastage into potential high-value alternative wood products would potentially ensure the economic viability of the sub-tropical and tropical hardwood plantation sector in Queensland.
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