It's farming, but not as we know it
A LOVE of timber and a healthy dose of patience have landed the Wright siblings of Nimbin their dream job: growing native eucalypts on degraded pasture to provide a sustainable income while adding to the environmental amenity of the land.
With 13 years of growth behind them, brothers Mark and James along with their sister Wendy have already started to reap income from thinned logs, finding a ready and enthusiastic market among alternative lifestylers around the Nimbin area.
But the real return should start flowing after another decade when they begin to harvest logs for a variety of uses: power poles, fence posts and some for quality sawn timber.
The last of the trees will be harvested at 30 years, if all goes to plan.
The brothers started their plantation enterprise on degraded cattle country north of Nimbin on the Blue Knob Rd and have expanded their operations to a total of 290ha of plantings across 500ha of land on four properties.
While cattle numbers were reduced on all the properties to make room for the plantings, Mark says 60% of herd numbers have been retained, with brahman crosses the dominant breed. Mark says they began planting using the recognised farm forestry model, as used by state forestry operations. They deep ripped and tilled the surface along hillside contours, planting 1250 trees per hectare.
But on their first thinning, they discovered that trees falling downhill damaged those still standing. And driving a tractor between rows on steep slopes was an unwanted risk.
So they have reduced plantings to 830/ha and prepare the hard ground using a NZ-designed Wilco cultivator head attached to an excavator, which rips and tills in one operation.
The subsequent holes chewed into the hillside are arranged up and down the slope, rather than across it. Because the holes are created in spots, rather than in rows, there is less risk of soil erosion.
The brothers used to thin the plantations themselves, with a chainsaw and a tractor. But, following best practice, they now employ a contractor with a harvesting head which cuts the trunk, fells the tree in a controlled manner before stripping it of bark and branches.
The brothers follow through and chip the bark and head of the tree, allowing vital nutrients to return to the soil and let their brahmans roam freely through the plantations.
Mark says the varieties planted will suit the market that they can best target from on-farm production. Most of the varieties, such as grey ironbark and Gympie messmate are durable enough for in-ground use, such as fence posts, strainer posts and telephone poles.
There's spotted gum for flooring, tallowwood for structural use and brush box, which will be harvested last because it is slower growing.