"The past is never fully gone. It is absorbed into the present and the future. It stays to shape what we are and what we do."
Sir William Deane, Governor-General of Australia, Inaugural Vincent Lingiari Memorial Lecture, August 1996.

APM Forests - Nurseries & Research

Phil Whiteman (bio)

Background

APM Forests was established in 1951 by APM Limited to manage the input of wood from State Forest into the Maryvale Pulp and Paper Mill, but more importantly to establish a source of softwood fibre to allow the production of strong papers (cardboard and sacks). APMF began planting pines in Gippsland in 1951 southwest of Sale on the sandy soils of the coastal plain. Over the next 40 years the estate grew to a total of approximately 85,000 hectares of which 42,500 was pine plantation (P.radiata) and 7,000 eucalypt plantation (mainly E.regnans) with the remainder being native forest. This land was mostly freehold title with a smaller amount (ca. 11,000 ha) being in long-term leases from the Victorian Government – mainly on the northern half of the Strzelecki Ranges.

Nurseries

After a number of small nursery sites were used in the early years, an ongoing nursery was established at Crookes Creek Longford in the mid 1950’s which is on the Southern side of the Longford Rosedale Road.

Many millions of P.radiata seedlings were produced there until 1978 when the nursery operations were transferred to the Richmond Nursery Cowwarr on the banks of the Thomson River adjacent to Cowwarr Weir. This nursery was named after Keith Richmond who led the nursery operations up until that time. The Richmond Nursery Cowwarr is still in production today (2018) producing seedlings and cuttings. A key figure the nursery operations for most of those years was the late Johnny Abel a dedicated and hard-working nurseryman.  In addition the nursery at Cowwarr pioneered the large scale production of radiata pine propagation by cuttings from advanced generation stool beds, a first for the world.

The nursery site at Cowwarr also hosted a large pine seed orchard and advanced breeding program ensuring high quality plants both genetically and physically. In 2006 a significant wildfire impacted on the nursery, destroying the caretaker house, machinery sheds, machinery and about 25% of the crop. The sheds were rebuilt and the machinery replaced without the loss of a year’s planting.

In addition to the pines, APMF was establishing a plantation resource of E.regnans for use in packaging papers and later in fine writing/business papers. The seedlings for this were grown in the Traralgon Nursery located on Argyle St (Princes Highway) between Liddiard Road and Head Street. APMF had a site at this location which was a nursery, workshop, fire store, storeroom and research centre. The site was sold in 1984 when the entire facility was relocated to the APMF site on the southern edge of the Maryvale Mill adjacent to the Mill weighbridge.

APMF ceased planting eucalypts from 1980 to 1986, but began again in 1987. This followed the conversion of one of the paper machines to a photocopy machine requiring more high quality hardwood fibre. To service this need the Angus Pollock Eucalypt Nursery was established to grow eucalypt seedlings and conduct propagation and breeding research. Angus Pollock was a long-serving General Manager of APMF. This nursery produced many million E.regnans, E.nitens and E.globulus seedlings in containers over many years up until 2005. Key innovations over that time were the development and application of browsing animal repellents, the use of cupric carbonate to reduce root spiralling in pots, the use of direct seeding into trays by machine, and the use of osmotic priming of seeds to get uniform germination directly in trays. 

The nursery at Maryvale is now partly leased to a private nursery company, and partly retained by Hancock Victorian Plantations (HVP) for a tree breeding and research facility. The nursery is now known as the Maryvale Nursery. 

Most of HVP’s planting stock requirement is currently grown at Gelliondale (near Yarram) in a massive nursery/tree breeding facility, growing over 10 million plants a year, mainly in containers.

Research

APMF was expanding pine plantations into areas that had not had pines before, and there were many challenges. APMF also established and resourced a large research and development effort aimed at growing the maximum amount of wood on the least land with the least impact to the community and environment. In addition to the effort by APMF, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) had a field station of the Division of Forest Research co-located with APMF at the research facility in Traralgon from about 1970 to 1983. This proved to be very synergistic and resulted in a productive period for plantation research in Gippsland.  

The research and development was in a number of disciplines covering all aspects of forest management, including harvesting developments and fire. Some key areas area were as follows:

Nutrition and Soil Mapping

APMF were faced with many nutritional challenges. Research identified key nutrient deficiencies and imbalances. As well as the usual nitrogen and phosphorous deficiencies key issues were discovered particularly related to potassium and copper. A detailed soil mapping exercise was initiated and completed in the late 1970’s, and this became the foundation for nutrient management but also for growth modelling, harvesting seasonality and wood property research. Key figures involved in this area of research were Mike Hall, Robin Cromer, Nigel Turvey, Philip Smethurst and Chris Weston.

Operations

APMF also pioneered a computer-based forest management system in the early 1970’s utilising live inventory data and growth models to optimise the management of the estate. This was very innovative and initially based on mainframe computer systems based out of the Southgate and then Camberwell Offices. Key figures involved in this aspect of research were John Dargavel, Peter Filmer, Darryl Cowen, Henry Lieshout and Malcolm Mann.

Weeds and Pests

Weeds presented a major problem for plantation establishment and growth. Competition for moisture was the major issue. APMF was heavily involved in the research and introduction of herbicides used in pine establishment, particularly hexazinone and those used in eucalypt establishment particularly simazine, clopyralid and haloxyfop. In addition APMF developed a program for blackberry control using goats.

Browsing animal issues were enormous in the Strzelecki and Longford areas, and following the decision of APMF to cease using 1080 poison, a large research program looking at alternatives for controlling browsing animals was conducted. This led to some developments of repellents and more targeted control methods still in use today. Key figures involved in this research on pests and weeds included John Cameron, Tom Montague, Dick McCarthy and Braden Jenkin.

Insects were also a problem and a major collaborative program was started to tackle sirex wood-wasp as well as other minor issues.

Genetics, Tree Breeding and Propagation

APMF had very advanced and active genetic improvement programs resulting in advanced generation breeding for both pines and eucalypts. These programs were in strong collaboration with the CSIRO. In addition a program of vegetative propagation by cuttings was commercialised, including intensively managed stool beds. This program is still maintained to date. 

Considerable effort was put into vegetative propagation of eucalypts and tissue culture of both eucalypts and pine. Despite showing promise, none of these became commercial realities and, as has occurred around the globe for radiata pine and temperate eucalypts, propagation has reverted to seedlings and macrocuttings for pine and seedlings for eucalypts.  

In addition, despite many species trials testing a wide range of pines and eucalypts across a wide range of sites in Gippsland, no species has been found that is more suitable than radiata pine on any site. In a commercial sense the only eucalypt species that has been found to date to provide comparable growth is E.nitens when planted on fertile high rainfall sites.

Key figures involved in genetics, tree breeding and propagation research included Ken Eldridge, Rod Griffin, John Cameron, Maarty Krygsman and Phil Whiteman

Wood Properties

APMF had a strong focus on wood properties due to the in-house downstream processing at the Maryvale Pulp Mill and the Brown and Dureau Sawmill in Morwell. There was a strong focus on wood density in the tree breeding program and also in site selection and harvesting mix. Wood density was highly correlated with paper tear strength and is affected by site, growth rate and genetics. Much work was done to improve wood density but also to model the expected wood density of the wood entering Maryvale. Key figures in this research were Alan Farrington, John Cameron and Phil Whiteman. 

Collaboration with the FCV/DCFL/DSE and other agencies

APMF maintained a strong relationship with researchers from the abovementioned Government entities. In particular the following people featured strongly in collaboration - Leon Pederick (Genetics and Tree breeding), David Flynn (Soils and Pest control), Ian Smith and Geoff Marks (Pests and Diseases), Fred Neumann (Insect control) and Gary Waugh (Wood quality).

APMF also participated strongly in the Australian Research Working Group structure having strong participation in RWG1 - Genetics; RWG2 - Mensuration and Modelling; RWG 3 - Soils and Nutrition and RWG5 - Plantation Silviculture. 

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