An estimated 27 million plantation trees will be replanted across the Green Triangle over the coming months. A task normally undertaken by a large contingent of backpackers – this year the industry has relied on a domestic and New Zealand skill-base to fill the 150 positions due to prolonged border shutdowns as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
These recruits have included seasonal workers from the fishing and shearing industries, who join the forestry contracting crews in their work off-time. However, a number of contractors are still searching for final recruits to meet their work targets. The planting, which is spread across the south east of South Australia and south west Victoria replacing harvested trees, includes 19.6 million softwood Pinus Radiata seedlings and 7.5 million hardwood Eucalyptus Globulus.
This vast work effort will cover approximately 20,500 hectares of land, including the replacement of Pinus Radiata trees lost in the 2020 Kentbruck fire, near Nelson. Green Triangle Forest Industries Hub chair Ian McDonnell said forest growers and contractors were collaborating to strategically plan the season and ensure the limited workforce was best utilised in the fixed time-frame while managing ongoing changes due to impromptu border shutdowns.
He said some crews historically planted about 100,000 trees per day with individual planters averaging 3000 trees daily. “This is a very manual and physical job but for those wanting to increase their fitness and earn a good income, working with great people, it can be a rewarding role,” he said. “The planting season usually begins in May and can extend through to July; it is all dependent on the seasonal winter rain which is required to ensure the best growth for the new seedlings.”
Mr McDonnell said while the forest sector was not planting any new trees, only resowing what had been harvested and processed, the hub was working hard on new initiatives to grow the estate, understanding how to compete with increasing agricultural land prices and limitations with water access, particularly in South Australia.
The Federal Government Growing a Better Australia Strategy has earmarked the need to plant an additional 400,000 hectares of new plantation nationally over the next decade, the equivalent of one billion new trees, to meet growing domestic wood demand which is anticipated to quadruple by 2050.
This planting is in addition to the 70 million commercial trees already planted nationally each year; approximately a quarter of which is collectively achieved annually by local forest companies.
Mr McDonnell said the Green Triangle was today Australia’s biggest supplier of softwood product with growing pressure to meet demand for the country’s booming housing sector.
“It is important we continue to replace every single tree harvested and invest in new land development to keep pace with domestic consumption. This is why the hub has invested heavily in understanding tree water use, so we can pro-actively work with government and other stakeholders to create pathways to plant new trees,” he said.