KI farmer knocks down blue gum plantation

Kangaroo Island farmer, shearer and beekeeper Ben Davis hopes one day he can make a living from his land.

But first he has had to knock down 400 acres of blue gum trees planted on his land under lease by a timber plantation company.

It turns out this is a mammoth task with the felled trees sprouting freely, requiring further knock down.

There is one other farmer on the South Coast who has chosen to remove the trees and return the land to agriculture.

Plantations owned outright by KIPT or other farmers still surround his farm.

Mr Davis said these trees were sucking the moisture out of the land, harbouring feral animals and creating a claustrophobic setting around the homestead off Church Road, blocking telecommunications.

"They are water monsters sucking up every little bit of water, drying up the swamps and smaller creeks," he said. "I have noticed an improvement in the creeks around the area where I have knocked down the trees."

When Great Southern went into liquidation, the lease payments stopped in 2012/2013 and so Mr Davis decided to purchase the land from his father and make it his mission to knock down the trees.

He paid $1 to get the trees signed over by a conveyancer and in 2014 two bulldozers pulled a massive chain through the plantation, downing the blue gums.

By 2015, all trees were all piled up into windrows and the first piles were set on fire. The trees won't die easily though, and he is spending long hours on his tractor knocking down the regrowth.

He has chosen not to use herbicide as the amounts required would run off into the headwaters of the South West River.

"I'm slowly getting there and increasing stock numbers as I go," Mr Davis said. "I probably would not have been able to afford the land if it hadn't been for the trees, now I just need to get rid of them and return the land to what it was."

Admiration from ag sector

AgKI chairman Rick Morris said the plantation tree industry had changed the landscape on KI, reducing the number of farming families and impacting on water flows and encouraging feral animals, such as pigs and koalas.

"Ben and Sabrina have taken the opportunity to create themselves a viable parcel of land in some of the highest rainfall and most productive country in the state," Mr Morris said.

"Even if the port goes ahead, they now have something that will support their family and generations to come and means they may no longer have to work off farm to supplement income. I'm sure Ben would look forward to hanging up his hand piece.

"If the trees are never harvested well they've got a head start on everyone else. I take my hat off to them for having a go."

Mr Morris said the farming community would at least like to see the plantation industry maintain its fences around the trees.

"It would be fair to say that those that are clearing blue gums to put back to pasture have lost patience after 20 years of broken promises from the tree industry - they're now controlling their own destiny on the back of the best ever livestock gross margins," Mr Morris said.

"Primary production has been the backbone of this community since 1836. Farming provides jobs - there's rarely any headline grabbing projects but it's there every year, quietly driving the local economy."

KIPT's assets are shown in green, non KIPT forestry assets are in pink.

KIPT's assets are shown in green, non KIPT forestry assets are in pink.

KIPT owns its trees

Kangaroo Island Timber Plantations says it owns all its own land and trees outright, and has no lease arrangements for trees.

KIPT community engagement director Shauna Black said the company was working with the other tree growers, as per the an existing memorandum of understanding recently signed.

"They own their trees so decisions regarding harvest are purely for them to make," Ms Black said.

"We may negotiate to buy their trees once we have port approval, if that is their preference. The reason for the MOU is so that we can factor their trees into our harvest plan."

The MOU and a few practical considerations such as the age of trees would dictate what trees were harvested first, she said.

"The MOU includes commitments from the KIPT side to deal transparently with other tree growers. The harvest plan is not finalised and is based on many criteria including age of trees, location and demand for particular products."

KIPT acknowledged that water was a complex issue.

"The plantations were previously cleared farmland, so you cannot compare plantations and cleared area regarding run-off etc," she said.

"The matter is even less clear when compared with uncleared native vegetation ie pre-soldier settlement. You also need to assess rainfall in particular years and so on.

"Trees help to absorb eutrophic agricultural runoff from fertiliser and animal waste."

MOU MEETING: At the Parndana Hotel, from left, Lucy and Malcolm Boxall, Hugh Watters (PF Olsen), Graham Holdaway, John and Cheryl Lewis, Erica Birks, Kristina Holdaway, Mark Pettit (Mitsui), Stephen Watts, Alex Stone, Lester Noble, Andy Noble and Bill Roper.

MOU MEETING: At the Parndana Hotel, from left, Lucy and Malcolm Boxall, Hugh Watters (PF Olsen), Graham Holdaway, John and Cheryl Lewis, Erica Birks, Kristina Holdaway, Mark Pettit (Mitsui), Stephen Watts, Alex Stone, Lester Noble, Andy Noble and Bill Roper.

Signs MOU with growers

Kangaroo Island's 12 plantation forest growers are working together to maximise the benefits of the forestry industry for the community of Kangaroo Island.

At a recent meeting in Parndana, most of the Island's independent timber growers met with KI Plantation Timbers to discuss a Memorandum of Understanding for harvest and haulage work for both blue gum and pine plantations.

KIPT has committed to work with growers so that those who wish to use its harvest and haulage systems will be able to do so.

It has developed a Memorandum of Understanding, now signed by growers representing about 95 per cent of the plantation timber on the Island.

The growers will also be able to participate in the marketing agreement with Mitsui, which has contracts with KIPT to markets its entire timber resource.

KIPT director of operations, Graham Holdaway said he was pleased to be able to work with the growers so that they could see an outcome for their trees.

"We've agreed to work with the other growers on an open-book basis, where we will pass through the revenue and the costs in a transparent way when we are dealing with their trees," he said.

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