Farmers in limbo over eucalypt plantations

Kate MatthewsCountryman

Farmers with government contracts to grow eucalyptus trees will have their overgrown plantations thinned from October, but only if they make the priority list.

For almost two years, farmers have been in limbo after the State Government announced the Forest Products Commission (FPC) would restructure to focus on supplying wood to the forestry industry and sell its sharefarm division to the private sector.

FPC has more than 600 contracts with farmers from Moora to Esperance for hard and soft wood plantations.

Since the announcements last year, thinning and pruning on plantations ceased, redundancies were offered and FPC's head office was relocated to the Department of Agriculture and Food in Kensington to save on rent.

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But last month, FPC advertised tenders to thin non-commercial plantations - up to 4500 hectares of pines in the Mid West over five years and 4700ha of eucalypts in the Great Southern and West Coast over three years.

FPC forest operations director John Tredinnick said the work was scheduled according to the silvicultural status of individual plantations.

"Older, more developed plantings and those at greater risk of drought receive priority," he said.

FPC is hoping thinning will start next month and at the same time, will evaluate tenders for the sale of sharefarm interests.

But farmers and those involved in the industry are concerned a lack of funds mean not all trees will be thinned and sawlog values will be diminished.

Frankland grower Andrew Murray has 163ha of eucalyptus due to be pruned this year, but believes the Government is in breech of contract.

With his partner Amber, they chose FPC because they could retain the grazing rights where the trees were grown.

But without pruning or thinning, Andrew said there had been no feed value and mustering sheep in the plantation would be impossible.

"The other concern is in the contract we retain 20 per cent ownership of the logs that are harvested and because they haven't been thinned or pruned, we don't know what detrimental impact it will have on their value," he said.

"At the moment, we could push and clean the paddocks up with our own machinery at our own cost, but in a couple of years' time, they are going to be too big for our machinery to deal with."

Cranbrook grower Robert Brown was paid to prune an eighth of his 162ha plantation. He said he was disgusted by the situation.

"The trees are growing into each other and should have been thinned two years ago, and they have pasture growing underneath," he said.

"We thought a government-run tree company would be more reliable and safer."

In a statement, Agriculture Minister Terry Redman said he understood landowner frustration.

"From day one, I have said that obligations to investors and landowners would be met regardless of any sale or restructure to FPC," he said.

"There is no set silviculture regime within the sharefarm contracts, but any landowner that is concerned that the terms of their sharefarm agreements are not being met should contact the FPC."

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