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A $900,000 federal investment has ensured four more years of funding for the Tasmania Forestry Hub, allowing it to further examine an industry still grappling with a nation-wide timber bottleneck.
Spread out for the next four years, the funding is part of a $10.6 million national investment, which will also help finance the other eight existing forestry hubs around Australia, as well as establish two new hubs in Eden in New South Wales, and in the Northern Territory.
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First announced in 2019, the hubs have a broad remit to help expand and improve the industry across its plantation, infrastructure and manufacturing sectors.
The need to bolster the forestry sector's supply and infrastructure has become more pressing in recent months, as a protracted timber shortage continues to impact a sweep of associated industries. Propelled by the ongoing construction boom, which in turn is being constrained by continuing freight constraints, the shortage is continuing to cause months-long construction delays around the nation.
Given the issues facing the industry, Tasmania Forestry Hub general manager Simon Talbot was eager to put the new funding to good use.
"The hub is about connecting market demand with the raw materials to make a sustainable product that puts more money back into the Tasmanian economy," he said.
With the funding in hand, the hub will now establish a study to assess the national demand for timber, as well as a prospectus to examine which areas of the industry need investment, such as supply, infrastructure and research.
On the research side, Professor Greg Nolan, Director of UTAS' Centre for Sustainable Architecture with Wood, said timber's low availability is slowing its uptake as a sustainable building material.
"When you build a house and employ an architect they're going to look at what is available and build. It's a very brave person who says, 'I'm going to design a building for something I can't get,'" he said.
While Mr Talbot didn't expect the hub's work to lessen timber supply issues in the short term, he did point to research at the UTAS centre which could bring new timber options to buyers in the future.
"The team has been working with eucalyptus nitens, which was originally planted for pulp and paper, to make it suitable for structural timber, as well as for use in floor and paneling - that's the early stages of a product that could really help fill a gap in the market."
In a timely reflection of the industry's current logistical troubles, researchers at the centre said they often source Tasmanian wood chips from overseas, as it is more accessible to ship it back than source it within the state.
With that in mind, Mr Talbot also highlighted another of the hub's functions - to prompt groups within the industry to better communicate - a sentiment echoed by Professor Nolan.
"If we look at how it was 10 years ago, when all of the industry organisations split up, the sector started to come apart. Integration is an important part of the industry." Professor Nolan said.
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