The world’s largest Indian sandalwood grower and our largest NT customer, Tropical Forestry Services (TFS), has opened a $3.5 million nursery in Katherine.
At a little over one hectare in size, TFS claims it is the biggest of its type in Australia, with the capacity to hold about 1 million Indian sandalwood and host seedlings. Our team have been hard at work ensuring the completion of the Nursery had run smooth and a full project profile will be available shortly.
Saplings from the nursery will supply TFS’s plantations in the Northern Territory, Western Australia and Queensland. Kirk Hutchinson was involved in the 10-month construction of the nursery and now manages the seedlings supply for the company. He said the location of the nursery in Katherine made it ideal to support TFS’s ambition for growth in the Northern Territory.
“It has twice the capacity of our nursery in Kununurra. It is centrally located, so as far as transport of those seedlings is concerned, we can bring seedlings in, store them and trickle them out to planting crews in the field,” he said.
Mr Hutchinson said the Indian sandalwood trees would spend four to six months in the nursery before being planted out, where they had a 98 per cent transplant success rate. He said the new nursery would grow an even standard of trees, allowing the best possible start.
“If you start out with a sub-standard tree in the nursery, they struggle out in the field,” he said. “I believe you will never have as good a tree because you have had that setback. It does take them a long time to catch up, if they ever really do.”
More land and water needed for ambitious plan
At the nursery opening, managing director Frank Wilson outlined an ambitious plan for TFS in the Northern Territory, hoping to have about 10,000 hectares of Indian sandalwood in the ground in the next 10 years.
However, Mr Wilson said the company would need a lot more land and water to make that happen.
Despite the Jawoyn Association Aboriginal Corporation recently knocking back a proposal to enter into a joint venture with TFS, Mr Wilson said he would still like the company to work with local Indigenous landholders.
“Indigenous owners have a lot of land in this area; it is suitable. I think it is a perfect win-win for us and the Indigenous custodians because we offer employment opportunities,” he said.
“It is something that is quite unique in terms of the asset they have and what we can do together to make an outstanding commercial venture.” Mr Wilson took a swipe at NT Labor’s water policy, which included a review of all water licences granted since August 2012.
“If I understand the policy correctly, it is crazy,” he said. “There is no way businesses such as ours can grow unless we have certainty. To suggest that water licences are going to be flexible, withdrawn or reviewed after they have been issued is not a climate where one can invest.
“If that is the outcome then obviously TFS will not invest. We will move to another state where we can have certainty.”
Call for ability to buy and sell water licences
Mr Wilson also said he would like to see the buying and selling of water licences introduced in the Territory.
“Obviously we have some issues with how the licences are dealt with, in particular some licensees who are not using the licences and have a lot of water licences [that] are never going to be actually used,” he said.
“I think there should be a ‘use it or lose it’ situation promoted so that the actual water resource is used and utilised to the benefit of the Territory.”
TFS would still like to see an oil distillation plant built in the Northern Territory, but the project hinges on the ability of the company to obtain more land and water to expand its plantations.
“Again, we need to be certain we can expand in the NT to have the critical mass to build that plant,” Mr Wilson said. “At this stage if we can get the land in the NT then it will be built in the NT.”
Photos and Story by: ABC Rural Daniel Fitzgerald