Portable sawmills in a high-value rainforest cabinet timber industry in North Queensland

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Abstract

This paper examines the role and use of portable sawmills in north Queensland. Using a semi-structured questionnaire and personal interviews, the opinions of 18 operators of portable and fixed-site sawmills were canvassed on a number of issues including main problems faced by the local industry, current sources of timber, sawn timber recovery rates of their operations, willingness to purchase new milling and other equipment, opinions about why (or if) portable sawmills can sell timber at a lower cost than fixed-site mills, and destinations of sawn timber milled. The most critical issues faced by sawmillers were the lack of resource security and competing products, in particular competition from imported tropical timbers from neighbouring island countries including Papua New Guinea. Most sawmillers in north Queensland currently obtain logs mainly from private landholdings and are hesitant to invest in new equipment due to concerns about future log supplies. This paper also explores the current and potential role of portable sawmills in the regional small-scale forestry industry. An examination of policy issues suggests that there may be a need for new legislation to cover employees, sawn timber consumers and sawmillers themselves. The future role of portable sawmills may require a co-operative approach that emphasizes low volume value-adding, due to the decreasing supply of logs in North Queensland.

This paper is based on research undertaken for a Master of Commerce by the first author (Smorfitt 2000). All authors are members of the Rainforest CRC, which has provided financial support for the research reported here. The assistance of Mr I. Venables in providing comment on the questionnaire for portable sawmillers is gratefully acknowledged.