Tumut is a prime contender for forestry plantation expansion, a soon-to-be released study from the Softwoods Working Group will show.
The study is in conjunction with research undertaken by the Australian Forest Products Association, who are looking to identify potential areas for development.
For SWG Chairman Peter Crowe, the answer to their search is clear.
“South East Slopes of New South Wales [of which Tumut is a hub], plus North West Victoria, is the biggest processing complex in Australia,” he said, “it’s comparable to anything you’ll find in the Southern Hemisphere.”
“[The AFP is] identifying regional hubs around Australia where there is already plant infrastructure, road infrastructure, and existing infrastructure. Well, we’ve got a wide variety of sawmill plants, particle plants, and uniquely in Australia we’ve got three paper machines.
“What we’re trying to do is work out the optimal size to at least maintain the global competitiveness of our industry. We’re trying to work out what the future supply will look like.”
The South-West Slopes currently produce over a billion dollars worth of forest products a year – but there is plenty of room for expansion.
The country as a whole is importing 2 billion dollars more in wood products than we are exporting, and Mr Crowe believes Tumut has a key role to play in reducing that gap.
“Australia is short of wood,” he said.
“It’s been pretty much like that for the last thirty odd years, and if you look back historically we’re just as short of timber now as we were after the Second World War when Australia basically ran out of wood.
“We need to do something about it.”
Expanding the timber industry would have community benefits along with those for the plantation owners and the forestry commission. The investment into the timber industry around Tumut has been one of the biggest regional development projects in New South Wales, and the timber sector is Tumut’s largest employer.
The task now is to capitalise on the region’s potential for the long term.
Former Mayor Trina Thomson believes the council has a key role to play in encouraging investment in the plantations, especially with $8.5 million in infrastructure money to be spent this year.
“You’re looking at the economic viability of the community,” she said.
“We’re running out of trees in the ground, so the opportunity is to look at lobbying for more plantations. The timber industry is absolutely vital, with the Visy mill here which is actually identified as world’s best practice, and the mills up in Tumbarumba and Carter Holt Harvey.
“We just need more trees in the ground.”