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A forest is defined by Australia’s National Forest Inventory (NFI) as “an area, incorporating all living and non-living components, dominated by trees having usually a single stem and a mature or potentially mature stand height exceeding two metres, and with an existing or potential crown cover of overstorey strata about equal to or greater than 20%”. This definition includes Australia’s diverse native forests, regardless of age. It is also sufficiently broad to encompass areas of trees that are sometimes described as woodlands.
The combined standing planted forest resource in Australia was 1.5 million hectares planted to September 2000 (table 17.2). Of this total, farm forestry contributed 5% or 67,000 hectares, and the remaining 1.4 million hectares were owned or managed by larger commercial growers who contributed to the National Plantation Inventory (NPI). Farm Forestry data are provided, through a separate process, to the National Farm Forest Inventory (NFFI).
Of the 1.4 million ha. of industrial plantations planted to September 2000, softwood plantations, which are dominated by the exotic species Pinus radiata, contributed 67% (948,000 ha.). Hardwood plantations, which are almost all native Eucalyptus species, mainly the Eucalyptus globulos variety, contributed 33% (469,000 ha.). Since 1995 there has been an overall increase in the standing estate of almost 40% (375,000 ha.).
Since 1990 the plantation sector has undergone a shift from predominantly planting softwood to now predominantly planting hardwood. Hardwood establishment of nearly 144,000 ha. for the year 2000 alone was more than one and a half times higher than in 1999. In total, 87% of the 469,000 ha. of standing hardwood plantation has been planted since 1990.
A diverse range of ownership arrangements existed in the Australian plantation industry, including a variety of joint venture and annuity schemes between public and private parties. Of the standing estate in 2000, 48% was on public land and 37% was on private land. While the area of plantations in public ownership has lessened over time, the proportion in private ownership has increased. Just over half (53%) of the resource planted since 1990 had private land and tree ownership, while only a quarter of the resource planted during this period had public land and tree ownership.
Farm forestry generally refers to the incorporation of commercial tree growing into farming systems. This may take the form of smaller scale plantations on farms, timberbelts, wind-breaks, alleys and wide-spaced plantings, and may also include management of native forest for commercial returns on farms.
Farm forestry is increasingly becoming adopted as part of farm management planning and integrated into existing land uses, not only to supply wood but to provide a range of benefits such as environmental protection and increased agricultural production.
To date, plantation farm forestry has mostly occurred in higher rainfall regions (greater than 600mm) where good growth rates can be achieved and there is an existing timber processing industry. Many farmers have also entered into farm forestry by leasing their land or forming joint venture agreements with large scale forest management companies. Fostering farm forestry uptake, and revegetation in general, in lower rainfall regions, will become an increasing priority in government programs designed to improve land management and ameliorate environmental degradation, especially salinity and water quality.
The baseline area for plantations owned outright by individuals having total estates less than 1,000 ha. (i.e. the small-grower sector) was just on 67,000 ha., or nearly 5% of Australia’s total plantation estate. In contrast to the wider plantation estate, which mainly comprised softwoods, the farm forest resource comprised over 60% hardwoods.
The management of private native forests is recognised as an important component of farm forestry, as 27% of Australia’s total native forest area is in private ownership and a further 42% is on privately managed leasehold land.