Timber to beef on the North Coast

Beef new priority for timber country


Beef
Timber getters Allan and Bruce Hoffman, originally Killarney; ground crew boss Mike Smith, Woodenbong, and Dyraaba Station's David  Scarrabelotti at the cutting edge of new beef country near Casino, part of a region-wide return to beef from failed private investment plantation forestry.

Timber getters Allan and Bruce Hoffman, originally Killarney; ground crew boss Mike Smith, Woodenbong, and Dyraaba Station's David Scarrabelotti at the cutting edge of new beef country near Casino, part of a region-wide return to beef from failed private investment plantation forestry.

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There is a phenomenon taking place on the NSW North Coast as a vast return to beef from plantation forestry is changing the local landscape for the second time in as many decades.

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AT Dyraaba Station, west of Casino, harvesting of plantation timber ahead of a landscape retro-fit to modern beef production has taken advantage of a new opportunity. 

Queensland Commodity Exports (QCE) is now chipping pulp logs on the wharf at Brisbane before shipping the hardwood to China for  paper production.

Suddenly there is a market for what would otherwise be waste wood - with enough return to help offset costs that are required when returning forestry to grazing paddocks.

New owner of Dyraaba Station, David Scarrabelotti – who is involved with the beef supply chain from breeding to processing – is comfortable with the conversion, saying he expects to recoup some of the $1200/ha he will spend to revert black soil lowlands from white gum forest to improved pasture - some with exclusion fencing to hold Boer goats.

Most of the 672ha Property will be used to graze 400 Red Brahman cows and Santa Gertrudis bulls on country that hasn’t seen cattle for more than 16 years.

The original paddocks were never improved but this time around cleared and raked ground has been sowed with setaria, Rhodes grass, clovers, paspalum, blue grass and, of course, kikuyu.

“We expect to lift the carrying capacity of this place,” said Mr Scarrabelotti.

Where tall, straight stands of spotted gum grow on the ridge lines, Mr Scarrabelotti plans to leave them be and grow them out another decade to be harvested and most likely treated whole as power poles of which there remains a lucrative market and a local processor - Koppers in Grafton.

But where there are white gums and even potentially viable black butt growing on the black soil valleys the clearing is taking place at the rate of 300 stems per hour.

“This is some of the best country in the district,” he says explaining the reason behind his substantial investment.

“In its day Dyraaba Station was known for turning off the best Hereford weaner steers.”

Fourth generation Woodenbong beef producer Mike Smith left school early and bought his first dozer at 19. These days he employs in excess of 40 people with his company, MJ Smith, in charge of ground preparation - removing de-barked round log at an average rate of 11 B-Doubles a day loaded and leaving the property for Brisbane.

“We expect to be in the district for the next three years, maybe longer, said Mr Smith, who calculates on moving 90,000 tonnes a year. So far at Dyraaba Station 15,000 tonnes of log has been hauled and 200ha of previously cleared country has been raked and sown with pasture.

To fell trees QCE contracted fifth-generation Killarney timber getters Allan and Grant Hoffman, now based out of Portland Victoria as the fourth largest logging contractor in the country, to clear Eucalyptus dunnyi with a brand new Canadian Tiger Cat feller buncher and new Hyundia excavators in a designated log dump de-barking and docking hardwood stems into 4.8m lengths, piled, ready for the road trip to Brisbane.

Resource and Operations Manager Greg Osborne from QCE - part of Geelong-based Midway Limited - says high quality hardwood pulp chip is in strengthening in demand by China for paper manufacturing.

“White gum very much fits this brief,” said the former New Zealand forester.

There are few markets for discarded plantation timber on the North Coast. The export chip market is one. A co-generation power plant at the Broadwater sugar mill via Ballina is another, with local company FEDC removing timber at no cost to the landholder.

Without a viable long term export market market there is little chance plantation forestry will return to the North Coast, said Mr Osborne.

“There is a future for local sawmill species like spotted gum and blackbutt,” he said. “But white gum is more suitable for pulpwood production.”

Timber to beef changing North Coast landscape

THERE is a phenomenon taking place on the NSW North Coast as a vast return to beef from plantation forestry is changing the local landscape for the second time in as many decades.

The process is taking place all over the Far North Coast, primarily in the Richmond and Clarence Valleys, where managed investment schemes promising sound returns from long-term forestry investment failed in the years following the GFC.

Currently Kookaburra Aggregation is selling 33,000ha of plantation country between Urbenville on the Upper Clarence and Yarrowitch on the Upper Macleay plus a ‘cell’ near Gympie in Queensland.

In many cases plantations have already been cleared with ‘dozer and chain, the piles of detritus burning like funeral pyres because there has been no local market for pulpwood like white gum, Eucalyptus dunnyi; no pulp mill exists on the North Coast to make such a venture viable.

As a result the investment scheme idea never matured enough to see the process through to its plausible end.

In fact there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest the whole scheme was poorly prepared from the outset with contract planting often carried out in drought or flood in order to meet tax office-imposed deadlines.

One of the five investment companies,  Forest Enterprises Australia, went into receivership in 2010 owing $215 million.

As a result some investment properties purchased by managed investment schemes for four times the going price have been sold back to the highest bidder for a quarter of what those investment companies paid.

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