The Northern Australia Food Futures Conference, held in Darwin from May 22nd to 25th, underscored the potential of forestry within the broader agricultural industry.
Now in its fifth edition, the conference was opened by the Northern Territory Minister for Agribusiness and Fisheries, Northern Territory Government, the Hon. Paul Kirby. It plays an important role in elevating the visibility of northern agriculture nationally.
The event provided a forum for diverse attendees – from investors and politicians to industry professionals and local communities – to discuss the various agricultural sectors spanning northern parts of Western Australia, the Northern Territory, and Queensland.
Organised by the NT Farmers Association, the conference is fundamental in driving development, shaping policies, and drawing investment to the northern regions of Australia.
The conference receives strong backing from governmental bodies, including the Northern Territory, Western Australia, and Queensland. Additionally, the National Farmers Federation, Hort Innovation, Cotton Australia, and private-sector organisations provide substantial support
A standout feature of the conference was the sessions dedicated to the forestry and timber industries.
Presentations were provided by Mick Stephens, CEO of Timber Queensland; Bob Gordon, Forestry Australia’s former Chair; Thiago Gimenez Barbosa, Syntropic Solutions; Gilbson Farmer Illortaminni and Kim Purantatameri from Tiwi Plantations Corporation; Tim Woods, Managing Director of IndustryEdge; and Professor Chris Westen, an Associate Professor from the University of Melbourne.
Other participants included Diana Gibbs, Chair of the Australian Forest Products Association; Frank Miller, Chair of the Forest Industries Association of the NT; and Hannah Lillicrap, Ord Valley Forestry Hub Manager for the Northern Territory.
“It was wonderful to discuss synergies and opportunities to integrate both native forestry and planted forests with agricultural activities across the north,” Mick Stephens said.
“Northern Australia has ample opportunity to provide food and fibre for the nation and the collaboration and discussions among peak forestry and agricultural bodies and farmers this past week in Darwin has been amazing,” he said.
Forestry emerged as one of seven key discussion topics in the breakout sessions held during the second and third days of the conference.
First Session: Looking for a Tree Change – Opportunities for Northern Australia
In the opening session, Bob Gordon, Mick Stephens, Thiago Gimenez Barbosa, Gibson Farmer Illortaminni, and Kim Purantatamer
Bob Gordon shed light on the potential for generating electricity and heat through small-scale bioenergy, drawing attention to sustainable energy opportunities within forestry.
Mick Stephens discussed the potential of silvopastoral forestry, a system that integrates trees and pasture. In November 2021, Timber Queensland announced a three-year Silvopastoral trial exploring transformative farming in North Queensland commercial pine settings.
The project, which brings together forestry and livestock production experts and environmental and carbon consultants, will assess the economic benefits of combined grazing and commercial tree farming compared to traditional practices.
“There is a high likelihood these silvopastoralism systems can deliver higher net financial returns per hectare for suitable land types, while at the same time contributing to income diversification and lower overall carbon emissions, or even carbon neutral outcomes for the farming enterprise,” Stephens said in a statement.
Thiago Gimenez Barbosa spoke about syntropic agroforestry, a highly productive farming system designed to mimic the structure and function of a natural forest.
And finally, Gibson Farmer Illortaminni and Kim Purantatameri underscored forestry’s crucial role in creating opportunities for the Tiwi Islands. Both serve on the Tiwi Land Council and, in 2010, spearheaded the establishment of the Tiwi Plantations Corporation, which manages over 30,000 hectares of plantation on Melville Island.
Second session: Looking for a Tree Change – Northern Forestry – What does the industry look like in 2033?
The second session centered on the next decade and featured presentations from Tim Woods and Professor Chris Westen.
Tim Woods discussed the potential prospects, misconceptions, and realities of the Northern Forestry Industry. A 2020 Cooperative Research Centre for Developing Northern Australia (CRCNA) study suggested that the industry could triple its production value to $300 million annually and create 600 new jobs within a decade.
Professor Westen concurrently shared his insights for the future. He’s part of a five-year project, “Maximising northern tropical forestry-linking communities and cutting-edge technology” which brings together multiple institutions and indigenous communities, including the Tiwi Plantations Corporation. The project aims to develop a growth model for the Northern Forestry Industry.
Slated for completion this year, it aims to combine advanced scientific techniques with community-based enterprise development, envisioning a significant increase in the northern Australian tropical plantation industry’s export growth from $6.5 million in 2018/19 to $12.5 million by 2025/26.
The conference emphasised the potential for better integration of forestry with agriculture.
The Northern Australia Food Futures Conference is one facet of the NT Farmers Association’s efforts to boost the region’s agricultural profile. The association has also hosted the Food Futures Roadshows in alternate years. These events provide a platform for sharing insights from the conference, offering networking opportunities, and attracting investment to regional areas.
- Wood Central will have exclusive coverage, including photos and reports, in the coming days.