Forestry industry should put more money in to keep scientists

A former chief research scientist at CSIRO says the forestry industry should put its money where its mouth is to save the jobs of world-class public servants.

Dr Sadanandan Nambiar has written an article for The Forestermagazine saying the $1.65 million a year put into research and development by private companies was not enough.

It is believed his figure did not account for in-house research done by private industry. 

"It's just my personal view - I feel morally obliged to stand up and say something," Dr Nambiar said. 

"The levy [paid by private industry] is very small at the moment.


"The big issues of the world can't be dealt with by two or three people hanging around."

His comments were prompted by a media campaign by Australian Forest Products Association chief executive Ross Hampton.

In June the lobbyist rode a timber bike across parts of Canberra to protest against the slashing of funds and jobs at CSIRO, particularly in the area of forestry research. 

Dr Nambiar, appointed an officer of the Order of Australia earlier this year, asked: "Where does the industry stand on this national tragedy, that is the demise of (research and development) capacity, apart from protesting about the cuts to CSIRO?" 

In his article he wrote the forestry industry relied on productivity gains made through scientific research. 

"There is evidence to be concerned that we are failing to use opportunities for increasing productivity," he wrote.

"In May this year, I gave a talk at a symposium, Sustainable Productivity of Plantations, organised by the IFA and held at Mount Gambier.

"I presented evidence that a large part of the blue gum plantation estate is languishing, yielding very poor rates of growth on soils which have been improved over decades by farmers with repeated superphosphate plus micronutrient applications and legume-based (nitrogen-fixing) pastures.

"Such failed plantation resources can hardly enhance prosperity in regional Australia. Given the way the stands are being harvested and sites are managed, even sharper declines in productivity are likely in the next rotation on those parts of the land base which may continue to the next rotation.

"Indications are that 25-40 per cent of the current blue gum estate is likely to be deforested and converted to other land uses under the management of new international timber investment management organisations (TIMOs) which now control much of the plantation estates in Australia after buying plantations previously owned by state governments, failed companies or disgraced (managed investment scheme) ventures.

"An invited speaker from the USA, introduced as a consultant who knows how international TIMOs think, followed me. His opening statement was 'TIMOs are not interested in forests, but only in wood'.

"I had never heard that line before and during my extensive international interactions, nor I think the owners of vertically integrated forestry business anywhere in the world would hold such one-eyed views. Perhaps some would prefer to have logs descend on trucks from the sky above!"