Rowan is a farmer and a forest scientist. And he is a man on a mission, to change the way we think about timber and tree growing. “When I hear discussions of forestry in this country, it is always one of two positions. People want to lock native forests up or they think they should be logged”. Rowan suggests a third way for producing this incredibly important resource, with Australian farmers at the forefront.
On his 42 Hectare family farm in Victoria’s spectacular Otway ranges, he has established an experimental forestry plantation. A research plot of tree species planted and maintained for multiple outcomes. Here, Rowan grows trees to produce high-value timber and also increase the environmental amenity of his farm.
“About 70% of the Australian Landscape is managed by farmers, and it is some of the most degraded land. Water quality, salinity, soil damage – these are all farming problems and trees are very often part of the solution.
When he purchased his own property in the late 80’s, it was completed degraded. Native vegetation had been cleared for dairy farming and cropping, with gully erosion devastating the property’s creek. Immediately they set about planting trees to stabilise soil and offer shelter. But as a forest scientist, he also planted species for timber, more than 50 species from Australia and across the world.
Now after 3 decades, the transformation of the property is astounding, sugar gliders are in residence and natural understorey species starting to reappear.
The local Blackwoods (Acacia melanoxylon) and messmates, (Eucalyptus obliqua x regnans) are being grown alongside Silky Oaks (Grevillea robusta) and Red Cedar (Toona ciliata) which come from warmer parts of the East Coast.
A famous American tree, the coast redwood, has also been a surprise success. “It was slow to start but is now one of the fastest growing trees, even here where our rainfall is only 700mm a year and dropping. “As I watched them grow, I realised they were putting that initial energy into a lignotuber”.
The trees are also pruned carefully each winter, with branches cleared to approx. an 8m height, to maximise the lengths of straight timber harvestable from each tree. Spacing between the trees is considered and managed to ensure access to light for each tree.
Rowan selectively harvests trees, using a chainsaw and his tractor and proper safety precautions.
The timber is then dried in a solar kiln to ensure stability. Solar kiln onsite, looks like a good spot to grow tomatoes!
Rowan’s trees have been used by furniture makers and builders. He also makes his own furniture.