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TAS Country : August 12th 2010
16 Friday, Augu On Farm Lean, mean look for har The ability to diversify is helping Woodlea Nursery survive the potentially devastating demise of the country's managed investment scheme forestry companies, reports Karolin MacGregor COMING VINTAGE: Fumigated grape vine cuttings. You really need good business and you have EYE CATCHER: Kangaroo paw. REBOUND: Tony Waites at Woodlea TONY and Anna Waites bought their Woodlea Nursery near Scottsdale about four years ago and since taking over the business have faced some fairly significant challenges. Up until this year, Woodlea Nursery supplied about 8 million eucalypt seedlings a year to forestry companies, which made up about 80 per cent of its business. Mr Waites said while they had anticipated some drop off in demand for forestry seedlings, no one had seen the global financial crisis coming, so the extent of the downturn had been a shock. After being forced to cut staff from about 30 to eight, Mr Waites said they had re-evaluated the business and worked out where they were heading. ''In some ways it was a good thing because it made us really look at every aspect of what we were doing to find more efficient ways of doing things, and we also started looking for new things that we could do,'' he said. ''Even though it has been quite a difficult time in some ways, I'm actually feeling very positive about the future because this is a sound business and there are a number of opportunities out there, we just have to make the most of them.'' While the business has been hard hit by the forestry downturn, Mr Waites said they expected demand for eucalyptus seedlings would gradually increase over the coming years. ''I think it will pick up again, but how long that will take is difficult to tell at this stage,'' he said. As a botanist, Mrs Waites is very familiar with working with plants, but Mr Waites's background in theoretical physics is not what you would expect for a nursery owner. ''We got a bit sick of the rat race and were looking for a change,'' he said. ''It's certainly been a learning curve at times, but we enjoy it. ''Coming from a science background I'm always analysing how and why we do things to see if there's anything we can improve on.'' Over the past 10 years Woodlea has specialised in producing large numbers of top-quality seedlings. Some major infrastructure improvements just prior to the MIS downturn mean the business now has increased capacity for even larger-scale production. New infrastructure at Woodlea includes a new $150,000 climate- controlled hothouse for seed germination and a large packing shed. ''Niten seed is worth about $70,000 a kilogram, it's more expensive than gold, so when you're planting seed worth that sort of money, you want the ideal conditions ,'' Mr Waites said. ''You certainly don't want any mistakes.'' The need for top-quality consistent potting mix has also seen facilities installed at the nursery about 18 months ago to make potting mix on site. A new automatic pot-filling machine has dramatically increased efficiency of the seedling business. The machine can handle all types of pots from small tube stock type right through to the larger pots and even biodegradable varieties. ''Plastic pots are a big problem for the industry, so there is a move towards biodegradable now,'' Mr Waites said. Improving efficiency is an important part of ensuring the nursery remains viable in the long term. ''In the scheme of things we are quite a small business compared to some of the larger companies on the mainland, so we've had to get more efficient to remain competitive,'' he said. As well as forestry, Mr Waites said they also supplied seedlings for revegetation, forestry and hedging plants for environmental groups such as Landcare, councils, farmers and Private Forests Tasmania. Mr Waites said they were also now expanding the amount of products they supplied to retail garden centres. They have also just negotiated a supply agreement with major hardware retailer Bunnings. Another area of increasing demand that Woodlea has taken advantage of over recent years has been the need for grape vines for both commercial and hobby vineyards being established in many places across the state. Grape vines can only be produced using cuttings from certified vineyards. Woodlea is the state's only nursery currently accredited with the Vine Industry Nursery Association that is allowed to grow grape cuttings. Mr Waites said there was a limited time when grape cuttings could be collected from the larger mainland vineyards during their winter pruning cycles, so orders for vines had to be placed well in advance. The cuttings are fumigated and hydrated before being placed in large crates where warm water is used the heat the soil, triggering the grape cuttings to grow roots. ''You really need good relationships with your customers in this business and you have to be flexible and understand the system,'' he said. Plans to start supplying potted fruit trees to Bunnings is another area Woodlea is expanding into. The nursery is also growing about 150,000 trees for a Midlands revegetation project for UTas. ''Things like that are coming along all the time,'' Mr Waites said. ''Sometimes it can be a bit worrying, especially the money side of it , but it's stimulating at the same time.'' Mr Waites said a team of very
August 5th 2010
August 19th 2010