The funding provided by the Australian Government for the SW Slopes Hub has allowed new research projects to be undertaken.
These projects were identified in the Hub's Strategic Plan which is based around the four main issues which must be addressed if the regional industry is to grow. These are termed ‘pillars’, and projects that are currently underway (or already completed by the Hub) are included below.
The Strategic Plan will be reviewed periodically, to ensure that all projects are still relevant to the observed and emerging needs of the industry.
The local community is engaged with the forest-based industry and recognises the industry as an important source of jobs and wealth with excellent management practices. The softwood plantations sector is appreciated for its’ carbon sequestration capacity.
Community Opinion Survey
Conducted during 2020, and which has informed the communications strategy.
Including website development to be completed in 2021.
As a result of concerns expressed by the community in the opinion survey, a number of issues were identified in which the community felt information was lacking. In response to these concerns, the following Fact Sheets have been developed. Further Fact Sheets will be added as requested by the community.
See Community page.
SWG has traditionally hosted tours covering the nursery, plantations and processing, in order to inform decision-makers and other interested parties about the industry scope and relevant issues. SWG will continue to offer these tours, in order to assist the Hub in engaging with the community, at any time
The industry is supported with an appropriately trained and skilled workforce, in accordance with national training standards and accreditations. The forest industry is a preferred work place and occupation.
Communications Network Upgrades
The Hub has identified a need to deliver mobile telephone coverage to the Bondo plantation area (NE of Tumut). We are in discussion with Telstra, regarding options to deliver adequate coverage, and the costs that might be involved. To be progressed during 2021.
The use of AI (artificial intelligence) could enable multiple benefits to be gained by the industry, in the form of logistical efficiencies, productivity improvement via the use of autonomous vehicles and robots, real-time transfer of data from forest to mill, etc. Individual companies within the industry will be participating in the Smarter Regions CRC, via the industry's research organisation FWPA should this bid be succesful in late 2021, with research to be developed over the next 10 years.
Road Haulage Study
During 2021 and 2022, the Hub will identify additional upgrade works that might be required to reduce constraints on the industry. The aim is to have projects that are 'application ready', in terms of engineering plans and business cases, when opportunities arise as relevant government assistance programs are available.
Scheduled for 2023, this project will investigate lower-cost energy sources for the industry.
People & Skills
The industry is supported with infrastructure of adequate capability and standard, to enable processors to maintain global competitiveness.
Skills Future Needs Survey
A questionnaire has been developed to gather data on demographics within the contracting workforce (those involved in harvest and haulage activities) in the Hub region. This information will be used to map the rate at which skills will leave the sector (due to retirement) and also identify the new skills required to be added, over time, to the total contracting workforce as technology changes. While this project started in late 2019, employment changes imposed by industry contraction following the 2020 fires means this project will not be reactivated until 2023.
Career Promotions Material
During 2022, we will develop a range of products designed to encourage school leavers to consider a career in various sectors within the industry. In addition to providing an outline of the nature of employment opportunities, a number of ‘stories’ will be gathered, in which current employees (from a range of age groups, and including both women and men) will outline how they got involved in the industry, what paths their careers have taken, what excites them about their current job, and where they see their future place in the industry.
Training Provider Consultations
The results of the skills future needs survey will be used to shape consultation with relevant training providers, via the provision of quantified estimates of demand for particular skills training. This project will be reactivated in 2023.
Regional plantation estate has been restored to 2019 levels by 2028, and subsequently expanded. The industry has been restructured to balance supply and demand over the next 30 years, and higher fibre yields (tonne/ha) are achieved by close attention to plantation design and silvicultural management. The industry is recognised for its positive contribution towards ameliorating climate change impacts as well as its socio-economic benefits.
During January and February 2020, the Hub was instrumental in providing sound advice to both the NSW and Australian governments as to the extent of damage resulting from the Dunns Road and Green Valley fires. This advice included recommendations on assistance required (immediate, medium term and long term), and then involvement in the design of grant programs. Working via SWG, the Hub also provided assistance to organisations associated with the industry to complete funding applications for fire recovery.
Socio-Economic Impacts Study for Entire Hub Region
Following on from the work undertaken by SWG in 2017, the Hub commissioned the same researchers from Canberra University to extend their assessment of the socio-economic impacts of the SW Slopes industry, in order to cover the entire Hub region which includes plantation areas in NE Victoria. This work was completed in 2020.
Assessment of Socio-Economic Impacts of the 2020 Fires
It is intended to add to the suite of socio-economic impact studies compiled by the Hub, by commissioning the Canberra University team to repeat their 2017 (and 2020) reports in order to assess the impact that the fires have had on the overall regional economy. This work will start in early 2022, by which time the impacts of the fires, and of the assistance measures provided by the Governnment, will have worked through the economy.
Supply Forecast Modelling
Once the forest growers had made a detailed inventory of losses caused by the fires, they were able to prepare supply projections for sawlog and pulplogs over the next 30 years. These individual grower forecasts were provided to the Hub in mid 2020, and were aggregated into total supply estimates. As replanting schedules are implemented, these forecasts will be reviewed in early 2022.
Forest growers are redesigning their plantations in their replanting programs after the fires.
In 2021 the Hub commissioned a project to forecast the impacts of modelled climatic changes on factors such as rainfall and temperature. Two climate forecast models were selected, together with two representative concentration pathways (RCPs - 4.5 and 8.5), with forecasts provided for each decade to 2090, over the entire Hub region. The 600mm isohyet (like an isobar for rainfall levels) which is generally accepted as the minimum rainfall required for successful softwood growing, was also superimposed on the Hub region, to identify whether areas currently used for plantations would still be appropriate into the future.
With a resolution down to 5km pixels, fairly detailed local analysis of particular sites is possible. Representatives of the forest growers have been trained to access and manipulate the very large quantities of data provided by this project, so that the tool will continue to be used over the long term to mitigate the risks imposed on the plantation sector by climate change.
Options for Plantation Expansion
During 2021 a briefing note has been prepared by the Hub that sets out an option by which the NSW Government could support the expansion of plantations in appropriate areas.