A RAIL hub approved for Goulburn is touted to revitalise a flagging forestry industry in the region.
Chicago Freight Rail Service’s local depot will be hauling a “minimum” two trains of logs weekly to ports, which will be loaded onto Chinabound ships under the plan.
Goulburn Mulwaree Council approved the proposal in December.
It aims to shift 135,000 tonnes of mainly radiata logs annually.
While community debate continues over the logs’ fumigation using methyl bromide, others are talking up the economic benefits.
International Primary Products (Aust and NZ) director Phil Jeune said his firm would source, buy and arrange transport for logs grown in the region to the rail hub.
There, logistics company Qube will facilitate rail transport to Sydney and Port Kembla. Chicago Freight is the landlord in the arrangement.
Mr Jeune said the Goulburn deal followed three years’ work. Forestry growers would reap the rewards from a much-needed market, better prices and greater transparency, he told the Post.
The company has a log yard in Auckland but with supplies drying up for Asian customers, it is looking to Australia.
“We were aware that Australia was in a similar situation to New Zealand with a lot of empty containers and not much to go in them,” Mr Jeune said.
“But we needed to connect the forest materials with the containers and to do that we needed an efficient rail service. That’s when we found Qube.”
Initially the “ducks didn’t line up” but when the Harefield train ceased going to Melbourne and started stopping in Goulburn, they seized the day.
The train offers the chance to load containers of logs. But there’s also the opportunity to dedicate trains especially for the purpose.
If Goulburn Workshop manager Mick Cooper has his way, log transport will eventually constitute 30 per cent of the hub’s activity. He’s hoping to sew up deals with several local primary industry exporters to make up the extras.
Mr Jeune says there’s enough product in the region to satisfy Asian countries’ cries for more. With Auckland forests ‘running low,’ his company needed another source.
“There’s a fair bit of wood here,” he said. “With the (ACT) fires a few years ago, some of the wood around here lost customers. It was an opportunity for us to add value to the trees but also to have a viable business.
“…We think we can offer the forest growers here something but equally, supply more wood to our customers.”
Farm Foresty Consulting owner Ian McArthur will help IPP identify timber sources. The Yass man has 44 years’ experience in the industry.
He estimates 3000 to 4000ha of private forest, reaping about one million tonnes, within a 120km radius of Goulburn.
Mr McArthur said growers had suffered from low prices, a lack of customers and poor transparency.
“They’ve had low prices forever and a day and they’ve never been able to find out the market price,” he said.
“It’s an almost impossible task and the trouble is you have sawmills that need continuity of supply.”
Mr McArthur argued that private growers had lacked cohesion, acted individually and not received true market value for their logs.
Export opportunities through Goulburn solve that problem in his book. IPP will offer $70 to $90/tonne, which Mr McArthur says is a 200-300 per cent increase on the current rate, depending on the market.
“We estimate at a minimum, growers should get at least 50pc more than what they have been getting for poorer quality logs and for the better quality, two to two-and-a-half times more,” he said.
“The big thing about this export (opportunity) is there are a range of log classes with prices for all categories.
At end of the day the best price will be transparent so the grower can see what the delivered price is and all the costs involved. They’ll know what they’ll get at the other end.” IPP is also offering a forestry ‘thinning’ service aimed at encouraging owners to manage their product better, but also to pocket more money.
Mr McArthur said whereas harvesting had been a waste of “time, effort and money” for some over the years, it would now be worthwhile.
“We’re hoping to inject a lot more enthusiasm into the whole private forestry business in the Southern Tablelands and wider region,” he told the Post.
The two trains will carry an estimated 1300 to 1500 tonnes of logs each week. IPP has struck a 10-year deal with the Goulburn depot.
Mr Jeune said while the operation would initially employ qualified people from outside Goulburn, they would train up locals for the job.
Mr Cooper estimates 10 new positions across the hub in the short-term and 25 in the long-term.
IPP will hold a growers meeting in Goulburn this month. Construction on necessary infrastructure at the depot will start as soon as possible, with hopes of the first train movement in February.