The Life of a Tree

Welcome to the Mitchell Forest Farming System

Why do we use the term “Forest Farming”? Jack coined this term some years ago as the best description of the philosophy and practice of his unique mixed species cabinet timber plantations: “forest” because the plantations are naturalistic and ultimately become a permanent forest; and “farming” because the plantations are established and maintained using best practice sustainable farming methods.

Jack Mitchell’s successful Forest Farming System is the culmination of a passionate lifetime interest in the rainforests of South East Queensland and designing methods for growing high value native rainforest timber species – otherwise known as cabinet timbers - in mixed species plantations. And Jack continues to refine and improve the Mitchell Forest Farming System.

Jack emphasises that his mixed species timber plantations are just that: carefully designed diverse mixtures with a number of species within single blocks; not blocks comprised of adjacent single species plots. Site preparation, plantation management and pruning techniques result in fast growth rates and the production of high value, high quality timber.

The Mitchell Forest Farming System offers an exceptional business investment opportunity for private growers whilst enhancing the environment:

Jack Mitchell’s believes that timber plantations can be compatible with natural landscapes and at the same time ensure that commercial timber production in mixed species plantations is ecologically sustainable and relieves the harvesting pressure on native forests here and overseas.

Jack Mitchell’s plantation design and species selection ensures the capacity of Forest Farming plantations to restore and enhance ecological services in degraded landscapes as well as revitalising native timber industries through a diversified investment portfolio and the sequential and selective harvest of commercial saw logs.

The Mitchell Forest Farming System is designed for private growers who have always been the innovators and experimentalists in the plantation forestry industry worldwide. There are a number of best practice plantings, based on the Mitchell Forest Farming System, available for inspection in coastal eastern Australia from northern New South Wales to Central Queensland.

Jack believes in the enormous potential of our native rainforest tree species to significantly expand Australia’s plantation estate on over-cleared and under-utilised land. Through a profitable and sustainable best practice management system that continues to achieve and improve; degraded landscapes are ameliorated and carbon is effectively stored long-term.

Forest farming differs from conventional commercial plantation in a number of aspects:

  • Using predominantly native species in mixed plantations, not the creation of monocultures;
  • There is very minimal supplementary irrigation other than natural rainfall;
  • Minimal tillage - there is no ripping or cultivating prior to planting;
  • No clearing of native forests - plantations are established on already cleared land;
  • Where ever possible, creating linkages with wildlife habitats of native bush land;
  • No clear-felling - the use of various species with different characteristics ensures a planned sequential harvest;
  • and
  • Permanent forest – through natural regeneration and enrichment planting the creation of a self-regenerating renewable timber resource.



Tuchekoi Native Timbers at Tuchekoi on the Sunshine Coast
Tuchekoi Native Timbers at Tuchekoi on the
Sunshine Coast
Marcus Yates (Field Manager) with Jack Mitchell & the work group
Marcus Yates (Field Manager) with Jack Mitchell &
the work group

“Forest Farming” - A New Industry for Queensland

The Mitchell Forest Farming System will be the primary change agent to successfully re-establish the economically significant cabinet timber industry in Queensland.

Queensland is blessed with a range of the world's best cabinet timbers. Our rainforests were once rich in these wonderful timbers, many of which were world-renowned. Unfortunately very few of these promising species have been developed to take their rightful place and we are determined that they achieve their full potential. 

The term “Forest Farming” was invented by Jack Mitchell many years ago as the best description of the philosophy and practice of his unique mixed species cabinet timber plantations: “forest” because the plantations are naturalistic and ultimately become a permanent forest; and “farming” because the plantations are established and maintained using best practice sustainable farming methods.

The Mitchell Forest Farming System is the culmination of a lifelong passionate interest in the rainforests of South East Queensland and designing methods for growing high value native rainforest timber species - otherwise known as cabinet timbers - in mixed species plantations.  We are continuing to refine and improve the Mitchell Forest Farming System to enable private plantation establishment on relatively small areas of already cleared land.

Through intensive developed field research since the early 1980s, my son and I have developed and refined viable methods of establishing mixed species plantations of our wonderful high value native sub-tropical and tropical rainforest timbers. Amazing results have been achieved in our mixed species plantings and have been continuously improved our planting and weed control equipment and management technology.

Unfortunately, for all of us, there has been very little serious scientific research and development undertaken in this area over the years. Any previous attempts in Queensland to grow these valuable species in monoculture plantations had ended in poor results or complete failure. Except for our native Hoop Pine (Araucaria cunninghamii) very little success has been achieved.

At the outset of our field research we first had to investigate the reasons for these expensive failures in Queensland’s plantation industry.

We determined that the main reasons were:

(i) poor planting and establishment methods;
(ii) poor maintenance because of a lack of understanding of the needs of our tropical and sub-tropical rainforest timber species; and
(iii) the fact that other than Hoop Pine, our native rainforest species could not be successfully grown in single species plantings.

The Hoop Pine, although fine and majestic in our state sponsored monoculture plantations in Queensland, is in reality too slow to mature to be viable for the private grower. Our interest has always been to produce plantations comprising species with maturity rates to be viable for private plantations.

In the early days, from experience as a carpenter, I was particularly drawn to the virtues of the Quandong (Elaeocarpus grandis). I knew inherently that this native rainforest species would have huge potential and I was determined to find a way to commercially develop this species. I was fascinated initially by its excellent timber qualities but over time would develop an enduring interest in the species’ distinctive propagation and growth characteristics both in the wild and in cultivation.

One of our early challenges was obtaining plants of promising species of sufficient quality and quantity from the existing plant nurseries. We needed to test the growth rates of trees producing high quality timber to make plantations viable for private growers. We also soon discovered that we needed to establish our own plant nursery to produce the high quality trees necessary for healthy plantations.

We also had to collect our own seeds to propagate the seedlings suitable for the plantations, as many of our native species had germination inhibitors on the seed and were not available as they had the often-undeserved reputation for sporadic germination and difficult propagation in commercial plant nurseries. The only native timber species that I was able to source in commercial quantities for my initial planting projects was Hoop Pine, which was available from Queensland Forestry nurseries. Little else was available in commercial quantities at that time. In those days, the plant nurseries were more interested in propagating and stocking imported exotic species.

Quandong formerly had the reputation of being almost impossible to propagate because of intransigent seed germination. I knew that this native species would have enormous potential as a cabinet timber and was disappointed at the lack of interest shown by the nursery industry. Most people in the nursery industry at that time were not aware of the quality of this valuable native rainforest timber species. Those few practitioners who were aware of the species were not interested in stocking it.

Quandong in reality is Australia’s fastest growing and maturing native species producing high quality timber, even at the thinning age of 8 to 10 years. Quandong at 20 years has reached a size that has a higher volume of high quality timber than a 40 to 60 year old Hoop Pine. I was convinced that Quandong had many valuable characteristics. It was lighter but stronger and easier to work with than Hoop Pine. I knew that this species was fast growing in the wild and I was reasonably confident that it would perform well in cultivation.

Today it is the key species in the Mitchell Forest Farming System. Quandong has the role of effectively promoting the height and clear wood development of other valuable timber species and also effectively provides a commercial early harvest and cash flow in our plantations.

Yet in those formative years, Quandong was a timber species that seemed forever destined to play a minor role in revegetation and forestry plantings in Queensland. Through our field research from the mid 80s we investigated, persevered, and eventually overcame the propagation difficulties with this species, and now we are the largest producer of quality Quandong seedlings anywhere in the world.

Quandong is remarkable in that, unlike most rainforest species, it has virtually no sap ring: the timber is the same colour and quality from the heart right to the bark, which is only about 2 mm in thickness, and so does not need debarking before milling. Moreover there is no warpage and very little shrinkage in the timber. When milled immediately after felling produces an odour that has the effect of protection from the scourge of lyctid borer; so it can be stripped, palleted and air-dried for up to 3 months under cover and then is kiln-dried to finish the product ready for use.

The fine timber from harvested trees of Quandong is not the only virtue of this remarkable and unique species: it has many ecological and environmental attributes. In reasonable conditions, Quandong trees flower and fruit prolifically every year; the flowers have extremely high nectar content with the potential for maintaining honey production, and its heavy crops of blue fruit are a food source for wildlife.

Over the years the Mitchell Forest Farming System has been refined by our extensive field research so that we now have a plantation system that creates a valuable asset for private growers on relatively small blocks of land. We also have custom-designed mechanical equipment for planting and weed control that can make small or large scale plantings easily managed by private plantation owners.

The commercial thinning and milling of our key species Quandong is achievable from of 8 to 10 years after planting when grown under recommended management and maintenance protocols including weed control, crucial at the early stages, and timing and species-specific form pruning methodology through the life of the plantation.

Now that our earlier plantings are coming on to harvest, I am proposing on-site milling with a band saw mill, the timber being slabed on site so that only slabs of timber are transported from plantations. By this method the grower and local communities will benefit. The milling can be done by private millers without the need for heavy machinery to be deployed.

All of our plantings are carefully designed by a selection of species that are most suitable for the site; in effect we are creating self-regenerating permanent eco-friendly forests from timber plantations designed for selective and sequential harvest.

We have huge areas of over-cleared and under-utilised land throughout the coastal areas of Queensland east of the Great Divide that has the requirements for successful cultivation of these high valued forests. We have specifically designed equipment for plantation management in a privately funded rural industry with tangible environmental advantages other than as a valuable intergenerational asset for the property owner.

The Mitchell Forest Farming System creates naturalistic plantings modelled on healthy natural landscapes. In our plantations natural ecosystem processes - including nutrient cycling - are fast-tracked and enhanced, so that expensive ongoing inputs of irrigation, fertilisers and pesticides are virtually eliminated. There is no nutrient runoff, and the water quality of natural watercourses is maintained. Mixed species plantations provide aesthetic and environmental outcomes and offer a number of advantages for the grower over conventional monocultures - the spread and diversification of harvestable products, lower potential for pest and disease outbreaks and the creation of self-regenerating diverse habitats for native fauna.

The species used in the Mitchell Forest Farming plantation designs are based on years of research and experimentation into identifying species with the potential to produce quality timber as well as compatibility with the other species used in mixed species configurations to facilitate ease of sequential and selective harvest. In well-planned plantations, species that differ in terms of their canopy structure and growth rates utilise the available resources - light, nutrients and water - in a way that is complementary for mutual growth rather than competitive.

Our method has many advantages over traditional forestry methods. Our planting plans always take into account the future commercial harvest of high quality timber from a range of species with varying maturity ages and rotation lengths. While Quandong comprises 60% of the mixed species plantations, other high value native cabinet timber native rainforest species are featured in the mixed species plantations, including: Queensland Maple (Flindersia brayleyana), Silver Ash (Flindersia scottiana), White Beech (Gmelina leichhardtii) and Silky Oak (Grevillea robusta).

It is also evident that Forest Farming timber plantations, established for sequential and selective harvest on a regular rotation basis, offer the potential for higher biomass production and carbon storage than clear fell monocultures for a number of reasons:

(i) commercial timber plantings comprised of high value species are managed to optimise the production of wood and have higher rates of carbon storage;
(ii) after sequential harvest there is minimal site disturbance and the high value timber products continue to store carbon off site; and
(iii) trees remaining in the plantation after sequential harvest are freed up from the competition and there is a resultant pulse in carbon storage.

I see the future of the Mitchell Forest Farming System is, as in the past years, providing healthy plant stock in our nursery and assisting plantation designing. To date our extensive private field research confirmed that this is the only method to create a viable industry. We will maintain quality control and assure consumers of sustainable and environmental responsible plantation management through verifiable timber certification schemes.

This new industry for Queensland will engage a vertically integrated specialised work force productively engaged in all aspects: from seed collection, plant propagation, plantation design, to the selective milling of the mature forest. “Forest Farming” is the way of the future.


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