Firewood for farm income
The firewood industry offers farmers an opportunity to broaden and diversify their income base.
Current firewood usage in Australia is estimated between six and 10 million tonnes a year.
The retail value of industry is estimated at between $900 million and $1.5 billion annually, based on an average delivered price of $150 per tonne.
Historically, a large percentage of firewood production has come from the unsustainable clearing of dead standing paddock trees.
Their habitat value makes clearing these trees a process that potentially threatens biodiversity.
"In terms of global warming, the use of firewood as a renewable source should be encouraged as it can be greenhouse gas neutral," NSW Department of Primary Industries’ private forestry and bioenergy industry leader, Brendan George, said.
"That is, trees sequester the carbon from the atmosphere as they grow, and it is released when burnt, then the trees grow back again, and so on."
Depending on resources, farmers can get into the firewood market in a number of ways.
At the simplest level, one can allow firewood merchants onto a property, and expect a royalty of approximately $10 per tonne.
A better alternative is to participate in harvesting and marketing firewood, to sell and deliver firewood and receive in the order of $150 per tonne depending on the market and species.
Farmers can also work with a merchant where the expected return would be $70-$80 per tonne, depending on local market conditions.
The resource available to farmers for firewood production is varied.
The farm with an area of private native forest could be harvested sustainably to produce firewood and occasionally high-value sawlogs.
Expected yields from private native forest would be one half to two tonnes per hectare each year, depending on forest type and locality.
Before a private native forest can be harvested, a Property Vegetation Plan has to be obtained from the Department of Environment and Climate Change, and operations need to comply with the Code of Forest Practice under the Native Vegetation Act 2003.
Farmers can also consider their direct seeded windbreaks.
Most direct seeded windbreaks are overstocked and need thinning, and this operation could yield four to eight tonnes per hectare of firewood.
Finally, a farmer can establish firewood plantations.
Properly managed, these plantations could yield eight tonnes per hectare a year, and provide other on farm benefits like shade and shelter, erosion control and improved biodiversity.
If the right species are selected, the trees will re-establish by coppicing after harvesting, thus minimising costs.
If more than 30 hectares of plantation are to be established, approval is required from the Department of Primary Industries under the Plantations and Reafforestation Act 1999.
Annually, a farm firewood enterprise supplying just 100 tonnes could provide up to an additional $15,000 income.
The farm would require 12 hectares of plantation, or between 50 and 200 hectares of private native forest to supply this volume.
However, before starting a firewood enterprise, farmers need to research potential markets, then decide at what level in the supply chain they will be involved, and what capacity and type of firewood they can produce.
The enterprise can be started with a minimum of equipment: a chainsaw, safety equipment; blockbuster and delivery vehicle.
And if the scale is to be increased, more sophisticated equipment, such as firewood processors can be added later.
Mr George says some interesting work coming out of Western Australia and Europe is looking at large-scale use of wood pellets as processed firewood.