The Australian African mahogany estate comprises over 12,000 ha of industrial plantations, farm-forestry plots and trials, virtually all derived from Africa-sourced wild seed. However, the better trees have given high-value products such as veneers, high-grade boards and award-winning furniture. Collaborative conservation and improvement by the Northern Territory (NT) and Queensland governments since 2000 realised seed orchards, hedge gardens and genetic tests revealing promising clones and families. Private sector R&D since the mid 2000s includes silvicultural-management and wood studies, participatory testing of government material and establishing over 90 African provenances and many single-tree seedlots in multisite provenance and family trials. Recent, mainly public sector research included a 5-agency project of 2009-12 resulting in advanced propagation technologies and greater knowledge of biology, wood properties and processing. Operational priority in the short term should focus on developing seed production areas and ‘rolling front’ clonal seed orchards. R&D priorities should include: developing and implementing a collaborative improvement strategy based on pooled resources; developing non-destructive evaluation of select-tree wood properties, micropropagation (including field testing of material from this source) to ‘industry ready’ and a select-tree index; optimising seed production in orchards; advancing controlled pollination techniques; and maximising benefits from the progeny, clone and provenance trials. Australia leads the world in improvement and ex situ conservation of African mahogany based on the governments’ 13-year program and more recent industry inputs such that accumulated genetic resources total over 120 provenances and many families from 15 of the 19 African countries of its range. Having built valuable genetic resources, expertise, technologies and knowledge, the species is almost ‘industry ready’. The industry will benefit if it exploits the comparative advantage these assets provide. However the status of much of the diverse germplasm introduced since the mid 2000s is uncertain due to changes in ownership. Further, recent reductions of government investment in forestry R&D will be detrimental unless the industry fills the funding gaps. Expansion and sustainability of the embryonic industry must capitalise on past and current R&D, while initiating and sustaining critical new work through all-stakeholder collaboration.
Australian Forest Growers National Conference 2012, Gympie, Australia 14-17 October 2012