Tiwi Island collaboration to double forestry exports in seven years

Tiwi Plantation
The Tiwi Islands has a long history of forestry, with the first plantations an exotic pine, trialled in the 1950s and 60s. Image: Tiwi Plantations Corporation

The University of Melbourne is partnering in a project expected to double the export value of the Tiwi Islands forestry industry from $6 million to $12 million.

The School of Ecosystem and Forest Sciences will participate in research trials within the Tiwi forestry plantation area, aimed at developing a Northern Forestry Industry Growth model to meet increased demand for hardwood chip in north Asia by expanding hardwood plantations in the tropics, attracting investment to the north and bringing employment to remote communities.

The venture is being launched with the support of the Tiwi Land Council and includes partners Tiwi Plantations and the Cooperative Research Centre for Developing Northern Australia (CRCNA), which is part of the Australian Government’s CRC Program.

“As the main research provider, the University will work collaboratively with Tiwi Plantations Corporation on selected Eucalyptus species to improve productivity and develop a model that establishes and grows tropical forestry plantations across Northern Australia,” plant developmental biologist, Professor Gerd Bossinger, said.

“Our relationship with the Tiwi goes back to 2011 when we founded the Tiwi-UM Science Reference Committee, so we are very excited to be involved in this initiative.”

The partnership will see researchers providing expertise in plantation silviculture and soil science, wood science and timber utilisation and tree developmental biology and molecular breeding via two programs: improving hardwood plantation productivity and identifying higher value products and future plantings.

The Chairman of the Tiwi Plantations Corporation, Kim Puruntatameri, said the project will deliver new options for economic development and employment for the Tiwi community. The new direction would support a shift away from Acacia-based products, lower value bleach hardwood kraft pulp, to Eucalyptus-based products like those used in higher value speciality pulp markets for textiles and other bio-economic products.

“This fundamental shift in the plantation production system will bolster the long-term viability of the Tiwi plantations and provide an integrated socio-economic model for the expansion of the planation forestry estate in the north.

“We’re already seeing productivity gains – close to 100 per cent – in a network of small-scale paired trial sites previously planted on Melville Island. Based on these figures, this is expected to secure a multimillion export market in future years.”

CRCNA Chair Sheriden Morris said the launch of the project during the Developing Northern Australia conference in Darwin was a great opportunity to highlight the importance of northern forestry as an enabler of economic development for First Nations communities.

Charles Darwin University is also a project partner and researchers and students there will work with Aboriginal and rural communities across northern Australia to document best practice forestry plantation establishment practices and develop a Northern Forestry Industry Growth Model.