Stalwart of Tasmanian forest industry steps back

There isn’t much Tony Price doesn’t know about the Australian forest industry.

After 40 years in the sector across five states and one territory, the former forester stepped down from his role as CEO at Midway Limited earlier this year – a move he says will enable him time to take on more consultancy work, spend time with the grandkids and work on his golf swing. 

How did you first begin working in the forest industry?

My family has been involved in the forest industry, particularly hardwood sawmilling, for five generations so I guess I was destined to work in the industry.

Initially I’d hoped to follow in my father’s footsteps and become a Forest Ranger with the Forestry Commission (now STT), however I ended up going to university (ANU) and became a forester.

Image: Geelong Advertiser

What’s been your most notable role to date, and why does it stand out?

While I have enjoyed a variety of roles over my career, both in the public and private sector, I think my most notable role  would have been as CEO of Australian Bluegum Plantations (ABP). This was a business set up after the acquisition of the ex-Timbercorp assets i.e, 90,000ha of bluegum plantations in Victoria, SA and WA. The business had gone into receivership and was effectively shutdown.  We had to build up the business from scratch, recruiting staff, implementing business systems, developing policies and procedures and securing sales. While it was extremely challenging at the time, ABP is now a very successful hardwood plantation business and I am proud of what we achieved.

What changes have you witnessed over your time working particularly in the Tasmanian forest sector?

When I returned to Tasmania after working for the Queensland Forest Service for a few years I joined the Forestry Commission and was based in Fingal. In those days much of the state forest was covered by pulp company concessions (i.e, APPM, TPFH and ANM). The companies managed the roading and harvesting, while Forestry Commission had more of a planning and monitoring role, ensuring operational standards were met, sawlog supplies were maintained and regeneration works were carried out.

The industry has changed dramatically with private plantation forestry now dominating the industry and native forestry operating at a much reduced level.

What are the greatest challenges facing the industry now?

The greatest challenge, as it has been for many years, is gaining broad public support for our sustainable industry – particularly in the native forest sector. Unfortunately, the industry’s opponents have, and continue to make emotive, extreme and often erroneous claims which are very difficult to counter with factual, scientific responses. However, we must continue to argue the benefits of sustainable forest management, both plantation and native, to the broader community in terms of the products we produce and the contribution we make to the evolving carbon economy.

The other emerging challenge is lack of resource to meet the industry and community needs, which could ultimately lead to greater reliance on imports, if we don’t put in place measures to address this issue.

What do you think the industry does well?

I think the Australian forest industry is second to none. We are very quick to explore and adapt to new technology and practises across the whole supply chain, whether it be tree breeding or forest harvesting.

The Forest Practises Code in Tasmania is world class and provides the guidelines to ensure all forest values are taken into account prior to and during harvesting and silviculture operations.

How could it improve?

Tony with grandson, Charlie

Continuous improvement in any industry is fundamentally important. We need to be continually pursuing opportunities to do things better and smarter.

I am also a big supporter of actively exploring opportunities to add value to our hardwood plantations. While technically challenging, production of solid wood products such as veneer, LVL and CLT has the potential to add value to plantations and diversify away from pure woodchips.

Many – when stepping back from fulltime work after many years – consider the legacy they leave behind. What would you consider (or what do you hope) is the legacy you leave the Tasmanian forest industry?

Personally, I am very proud of our industry and have thoroughly enjoyed the many and diversified roles I have had over the years. I also hope that I have played a role in assisting with the development of the younger foresters coming through.

In terms of a legacy in Tasmania, I have been working with Midway Tasmania to develop a commercially viable opportunity to thin 40-50 year old clearfell and burn regrowth around the state. While many trials have been carried out in the past, the opportunity had been put on the back burner.  Midway Tasmania has, for the last few years, been this opportunity in state forests with the support of Sustainable Timber Tasmania and now hopes to expand it into the private sector.

Thinning these forests involves removing the suppressed stems which will improve the forest health and allow the better trees to grow on to produce sawlogs and other solid wood products in the future. An added benefit is reducing the fuel load which has the potential to reduce the severity of fire  and improve access for fire management.

In this next chapter I look forward to…

Continuing to be involved in the industry, doing a bit of consulting and joining a board or two, while ensuring I have sufficient time for boating, golf and spending time with the grandkids.