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NSW's best tree farmer award goes to SCU forestry graduate


Sharlene King
27 May 2013
The efforts of three siblings, including a Southern Cross University forestry graduate, to establish a viable small scale native forest plantation have been rewarded, with the trio being named the NSW Tree Farmers of the Year for 2012.

Mark, James and Wendy Wright of Super Forest Plantations (SFP) were presented with their award yesterday (Sunday May 26) by forestry scientist Associate Professor Doland Nichols from the University’s School of Environment, Science and Engineering during a farm forestry field day at SFP’s Nimbin property.

The Tree Farmer of the Year Awards are announced biennially by the Australian Forest Growers Association.

Mark Wright, who graduated from Southern Cross University in 2007 with a Bachelor of Applied Science (Forestry), said receiving the NSW Tree Farmer of the Year award was significant.

“The award is acknowledgement of almost 15 years’ worth of really hard work. We have taken a lot of risks along the way. We’ve had a lot of success but we’ve also had failures.

“We hope that by bringing some attention to what we’ve been doing it’s an opportunity to promote farm forestry as a feasible path for people in agriculture, especially those with small lots of 20 or 30 acres.

“In particular we hope to dispel criticisms that native trees are unsuitable in plantation situations. Claims that natives are too slow-growing or the wood quality is not good enough are not true.”

SPF has four properties on the NSW North Coast: ‘White Beech’ (80Ha) and ‘Cabbage Palm’ ” (120Ha) located near Nimbin, and ‘Bloodwood’ (170Ha) and ‘Redgum’(130Ha in Ghinni Ghi, near Toonumbar Dam.

After trialling more than 13 species in a plantation situation, the Wrights settled on nine natives: Gympie messmate, Red mahogany, Grey ironbark, Tallowood, Spotted gum, Brushbox, Turpentine, Greygum and Greybox.

Mark said the species were grown in a mixed manner to replicate a native forest situation and to spread the risk. The oldest trees are now a decade old.

“We have found these can grow quickly when they are thinned which allows the crowns to expand and propels the growth of the stem. This silvicultural practice is well known but has been ignored by plantations companies, which tend to plant the trees and leave them.”

Mark said the natives were proving to be highly durable, dense and heavy timbers unlike the species traditionally grown in plantations, such as Flooded gum or Sydney blue gum.

“We expect a high value end product when we come to harvest the mature trees at the 30 year mark,” he said.

The harvested timbers are expected to have multiple applications, like farm fencing, telegraph poles, bridge girders, veneers, or standard saw log uses like flooring and construction grade material.

In the meantime SFP sells thinnings for firewood and small pole products.

A cattle operation is integrated with timber production. Brahman cross steers are used in the trees, while vealers bred on farm in open grazing property are sold at market.

Mark said to feed the cattle they were trialling grasses that required low light.

“We are trying to show you can grow trees and graze cattle at the same time and so add productive value to the land by having two crops.”

SPF’s silviculture and land use management practices extend to an environmental works program around riparian zones.

Associate Professor Doland Nichols, who works with Pacific island nations to develop sustainable silviculture practices for plantation timber production, said in some parts of Europe and the USA small private farm forestry operations contribute significantly to the production of wood.

“That isn't the case here in Australia- yet - but people like the Wrights could be leading us in that direction.”

He said the family was professional and passionate in their approach.

“Amid the collapse of large scale, commercial tree plantation companies in Australia, the Wrights have been doing a really good job on a small scale. As a family business, SFP is able to give their trees a lot of care.

“When we want to show SCU students and others best practice, we go to Super Forest Plantations.”

Photo: Mark Wright (centre) discussing Super Forest Planatations’ operation with field day participants in an 11-year-old stand of Gympie Messmate (E. cloeziana) trees