Last year, about 170 farmers met in the farming community of South Riana to air their concerns and see how to stop valuable farmland being converted to timber plantations. They were concerned for the future of the area -- built on successful dairy and cropping enterprises -- and called for the Tasmanian Government to abolish tree plantation development on prime agricultural land.
The meeting came within days of the King Island Council becoming the first in Tasmania to ban plantations on rural land, fearing they would risk the viability of dairy and beef industries. Gorgeous cream, cheese, yoghurt and beef are more important to King Islanders in Bass Strait than woodchips. And in a Tasmanian first, the King Island Council has removed forestry from its planning scheme as an acceptable agricultural use, an amendment now approved by the Resource Planning and Development Commission.
The local mayor Charles Arnold said tree farms would have a severe impact on the island's famous dairy and beef industries, and that “Once they plant it, the number of persons involved in it, is minimal. And I think that our prime agricultural land shouldn't be sacrificed for other people's gain out of minimising their tax”.
There’s also a moratorium on any further clearing of vegetation on the island for pasture. “People want to protect what they’ve got on the island,” said King Island Council general manager Andrew Wardlaw.
Federal Forestry Minister Eric Abetz is enraged over the decision to ban tree farms. He said that contrary to farmers’ claims, plantations create new jobs and revitalise rural communities, and that they were intended to the domestic market: “We either import timber … or we grow our own.”
However, when the Minister planted the 100 millionth tree for Great Southern Plantations Ltd on a commercial hardwood plantation near Albany in West Australia, he was then extolling exports : “Once harvested, 100 million trees will result in the production of 10 million bone dry tonnes of woodchip — all of which is destined to be exported to south-east Asia.”
Great Southern Plantations is part of the Great Southern Group, an agribusiness investment manager. It’s gobbled up land for tree farms in recent times, stretching from Western Australia to the Tiwi Islands to King Island. Plantations are big business, not least because investments are 100% tax deductible in the year in which they are made. Such scheme gives them an advantage no other person has and, as somebody said, has “turned Tasmania into a monocultural tree plantation state. Eucalypt Nitens are now THE defining feature of Tassie’s [Tasmania] now very boring landscape.”
Banning of industrial tree farms is a step many rural communities worldwide expect their governments to take. Few have, and the King Island Council should be very proud of showing the way.
Article based on information from: “Tasmanian Cattle Farmers Fear Plantations' Impact”, http://www.mycattle.com/news/dsp_international_article.cfm?storyid=19022, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, News Online, 2006; “Tasmanian farmers protest against tree plantations”, The World Today, 2006, http://www.abc.net.au/worldtoday/content/2006/s1724364.htm; “Abetz spitting chips over King Island tree farm ban”, Tasmanian Times, http://tasmaniantimes.com/index.php/weblog/comments/mr-howard-and-plantations/