FOREST FORTUNES: Forestry researcher Kevin Glencross inspects some tree seedlings destined for a future planting.
FOREST FORTUNES: Forestry researcher Kevin Glencross inspects some tree seedlings destined for a future planting. Jamie Brown

Academic shines spotlight on real money trees

SOUTHERN Cross University academic Kevin Glencross is determined to apply the lessons he learned while working with sustainable farmers in Vanuatu to reafforestation projects in Northern NSW.

The former carpenter said restored forests provide numerous benefits, from wildlife corridors and erosion control to profitable timber production.

But Dr Glencross warned it takes time to create a profitable landscape and landholders need to be patient.

Dr Glencross said a viable forest needs at least 30-40 years of managed growth before it can turn a profit and suggested landholders should look to create an environment that also includes trees for wildlife, wildfoods and even medicinal purpose.

"Timber value and biodiversity can work together," he said.

Dr Glencross said landholders looking to plant a harvestable forest should first identify areas of their land that are not used for core agriculture purposes and decide which species works best where.

"I am a great believer in mixed species plantations," he said.

"One species is prone to pests and disease as well as fluctuating markets. Some years white bland timber is in; at another time the dark timbers are fashionable."

Dr Glencross said there was even room for weeds - which provide habitat for birds and insects - to be included in the forests, revealing his time in Vanuatu had allowed him to study how locals there deal with nature's exuberance.

"They tend to focus only on the area they are working and ignore the encroaching forest," he said.

"We, on the other hand tend to want to control the entire landscape which is expensive and often futile."

When it comes to species diversity in a planted forest, Dr Glencross said high-value timbers like red cedar and rosewood were appealing but they may not be mature enough to harvest this century, meaning other species need to be included in the initial mix.

He said pioneer varieties like the silver quandong make sense because they race to form a canopy early and then pack girth onto their tall, straight trunks to become commercially viable within 20 years.

The tree's white soft wood matures very early and the timber is structurally stable, has high flex and is lightweight.

Dr Glencross also suggested adding a mid-paced growing tree like hoop pine, an indigenous rainforest timber that yields clear white timber suitable for a variety of purposes.

Dr Glencross said many small-scale forest growers avoid hoop pine in their plantings because they feel it is unwise to compete against big players like state forests, which grow the species commercially in plantations.

Yet one semi-trailer loaded with hoop logs taken from 35-year-old trees grown in a three-hectare forest might yield something like 350 to 400 cubic metres of timber.

The final profit, of course, depends on how far up the value chain the owner takes it.

"The further you can go up the value chain the better," Dr Glencross said.

"The money lies with the processor and the seller, not necessarily the grower."

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