Rising from Ashes: Inside Big River’s ‘Future Proofing’ Plant

The new state-of-the-art plant is poised to supply 8,000 cubic metres of structural and specialty timbes to the NSW economy.

Thu 04 Apr 24


The engine room for Australia’s native hardwood industry received a significant boost yesterday after Big River Group – one of the country’s largest formply and structural plywood manufacturers – opened its doors to its newly upgraded, state-of-the-art manufacturing plant in Grafton.

The $22 million upgrade, co-founded by Big River Group ($12 million) and matched by the NSW State and Federal Governments ($10 million), will see the mill now provide up to 8,000 cubic metres of timber every year and comes after the company consolidated operations following the 2019/20 Black Summer fires.

That saw Big River Group close its Wagga Wagga facility, where there were no longer sufficient log resources in the Tumut region, and instead consolidate operations in Grafton, where, according to NSW State member, Ritchie Williamson, “there is a sustainable supply of both hardwood and softwood logs exist.”

At the launch, Big River Group CEO John Lorente underscored the pivotal role of the local Grafton community in the plant’s prosperity, acknowledging their support and contribution.

 “We understand just how important the factory is to its workforce and the Grafton community and will remain future-focused on continuing to create opportunities to diversify with new value-added niche products and remain sustainable,” Mr Lorente said, confirming that the upgraded mill will result in an additional 20 full-time employees at the plant.

In addition, existing employees will benefit from upskilling opportunities facilitated by integrating new equipment, including lathes, chippers, a dryer, and cutting and finishing machinery for timber products.

“With the support of the Forestry Recovery Development Fund Program, we are poised to make a significant impact on the availability of high-quality timber products, while also securing and creating jobs locally, regionally and nationally,” Mr Lorente said.

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Yesterday, Big River Group CEO John Lorente joined key stakeholders, including the Federal Minister for Agriculture, Forestry and Emergency Management Murray Watt and Tara Moriarty, the NSW Minister for Agriculture, Regional NSW and Western NSW in Grafton, for the formal ribbon cutting. (Photo Credit: Donna Layton, supplied to Wood Central)

Federal Minister for Agriculture, Forestry and Emergency Management Murray Watt emphasised the significance of the investment, stating, “This major milestone to modernise and expand operations will enable workers to access valuable trade skills and support the timber industry’s economic recovery in the region.”

Meanwhile, Tara Moriarty, the NSW Minister for Agriculture, Regional NSW and Western NSW (who has forestry in her portfolio), hailed the project as a boon for the state’s construction sector before expressing optimism that the new facilities will address the ongoing shortage of building supplies.

The latest investment comes after Wood Central revealed that 50% of NSW’s power poles could be at risk due to the proposed Great Koala National Park, slated to include Northern NSW.

Last week, Wood Central spoke exclusively to Richard Lyons, Vice President of Koppers Australia, who said that changes to harvest areas would be disastrous for electricity ratepayers across the state.

Power poles are critical infrastructure; we are one of four suppliers that supply hardwood timber poles to the energy distribution network,” Mr Lyons said, adding that the push to close State Forests would coincide with a large portion of poles being programmed for urgent repair and replacement.

Last year, Wood Central spoke to Ernst + Young – the author of a report modelling the economic impact of native hardwoods on Northern NSW – which claimed that the hardwood industry was “vitally important to the state’s rural and regional economy, contributing $2.9 billion in revenue, adding $1.1 billion to NSW’s gross domestic product and employed 9000 people.”

According to Timber NSW’s Maree McCaskill, “hardwood timber is a growing part of the state’s economy; it’s a sustainable, renewable and essential input into the construction, infrastructure, agriculture, mining and energy sectors. The strength of this demand for hardwood timber is driving its increasing value.”

And with long-term investments like Big River Group’s Grafton upgrade, it is primed to meet the next generation of plywood products, including high quality formply products, architectural panels and high strength plywood for civil construction.


  • Jason Ross

    Jason Ross, publisher, is a 15-year professional in building and construction, connecting with more than 400 specifiers. A Gottstein Fellowship recipient, he is passionate about growing the market for wood-based information. Jason is Wood Central's in-house emcee and is available for corporate host and MC services.


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