Super Forest Plantations (SFP), established in 1999, is an innovative, sustainable, mixed farming enterprise based in the Northern Rivers region of NSW.
Over the ten properties totalling 2862 ha, beef cattle are integrated within mixed species stands of plantation timber which is purpose grown for sawlog production. A range of sustainable, high-quality timber products will be produced from these forests. Land with high conservation status or which is unsuitable for timber or cattle production is managed for its environmental values. Large-scale remediation works have been undertaken to improve the environmental values of this land.
Since its inception, Super Forest Plantations has been working towards a successful integrated plantation timber sawlog & cattle production business in the Northern Rivers region of NSW.
The first 80 ha property, “White Beech” was purchased in 1999. Another nine properties, “Cabbage Palm” (122 ha), “Dunrobin” (405 ha), “Bloodwood” (174 ha), “Red Gum” (133 ha), “Ironbark” (598 ha), “Red Ash” (230 ha), “Lemon Tree” (832ha), “Quandong”(135 ha) and “Tallow Wood” (155 ha) have been added since, and SFP now manages over 1740 hectares.
The timber plantations have been established in stages, with the first 20ha planted in 2001 on “White Beech”, and a further 20ha in 2002. The size of the plantings has increased over time as an experimental planting model developed. Currently over 500ha of the planned 800ha of plantations have been established.
To begin with the timber plantings were highly experimental, utilising a broad variety of well known local timber species, planted on a range of sites and in different mixtures. The initial plantings were closely monitored and those species that performed well and proved suitable for growing in a plantation situation here, were identified and used in later plantings. Species-to-site matching has been developed, along with suitable species mixtures, improving the productive potential of the enterprise. New species continue to be trialled and introduced as part of the mix if proven successful.
Initially a mix of single species and mixed species stands were planted. The diversity of species within the plantations is an important aspect of the operation. A range of benefits can be derived from the diversity of mixed species plantings including; avoiding inherent monoculture risks such as risk of devastating species-specific pest and disease affecting the entire stand, increased stand resilience resulting from potential interspecies interactions, taking advantage of unknown or unforeseen site differences that favour one species over another and an increased level of biodiversity. Now all plantings incorporate a mixture of species.
A large proportion of the trees grown are high durability species. High durability species have a wide range of end uses as they are suitable for in-ground as well as above ground use. These have been traditionally regarded as slow growing and unsuitable for plantations. SFP’s encouraging growth rates of 2cm/year girth increment for most species challenges this traditional way of thinking.
Plantation design and establishment methods have been dramatically modified over time. Early plantation design followed the standard forestry model of high initial stocking, 1250 stems/ha, planted in rows ripped along the contour (across the slope). Issues with the cost of establishment and subsequent difficulties in the management of these stands led to SFP changing to lower initial stocking of 833 stems/ha, planted in spot cultivated rows across the contour (up & down the slope).
Brahmin-cross cattle are grazed under the plantation trees, adding productivity to the enterprise. The cattle benefit from the shelter provided by the trees and in turn reduce weed control costs and fire fuel loads, lowering the fire risk. SFP breeds its own cattle and sells through local markets.
Areas suitable and unsuitable for plantation and cattle production are identified along with areas of high conservation status. The appropriate management strategy for each of these property zones is developed and implemented to achieve the best possible outcomes for the land as a whole. Zones deemed unsuitable for plantation and cattle or high conservation status are managed for environmental values. Ongoing environmental works on all properties include; bush regeneration and plantings to improve linkages with existing stands of indigenous vegetation, regeneration of 7ha rainforest remnant on “Bloodwood”, restorative plantings into a 20m wide riparian zone along 1.5km stretch of creek on “White Beech”, treatment of a major Camphor Laurel infestation on “Ironbark”, and the fencing of sensitive areas restricting cattle access to allow natural regeneration.
SFP is still in the early stages of the 30-year plantation rotation cycle. The oldest trees planted from 2001 to 2004 are producing a limited range of products from thinned trees. These products include small poles for houses and sheds, fencing products (small posts, stays, rails amd larger strainer posts or rounds) and firewood. Other products such as milled timber, telegraph poles and split posts will be available when the trees are 20 years old to the final harvest at 30 years. From 2020 SFP will have a continuous supply of quality, sustainably produced timber products as the various staged plantings reach sawlog size/maturity.
From our original property, White Beech, near Nimbin, we have now grown to over ten properties across the lush Northern Rivers region, managing a total of over 1740 hectares. The region is well serviced by several regional centres and is only around 150km by road from Brisbane. The area has what is classified as a sub-tropical climate closer to the coast, a sub-humid climate on the slopes and a temperate climate in the uplands towards the west, with warm summers and no dry season. Minimum average monthly rainfalls range from 30-99mm, and maximum average rainfalls range from 76-499mm.