ASH is working to diversify

Australian Sustainable Hardwoods managing director Vince Hurley and worker Kerri Chivers show Victorian Agriculture Minister Mary-Anne Thomas around one of the site's seven manufacturing plants in Heyfield. Soon, there will be two more plants.Photo: Sarah Luke

HEYFIELD’S Australian Sustainable Hardwoods is set to become the first company in Australia to manufacture engineered flooring from plantation timber, after receiving a state government grant.
The local manufacturer’s new $3.2 million project to produce engineered flooring from plantation timber has been fast-tracked by the state government’s $1.6 million grant, and in March 2022, the business’ directors hope to be able to launch the product to the market.
ASH will install a new manufacturing line to produce engineered flooring made from plantation shining gum and radiata pine plywood, as well as expand its online and retail outlet.
In addition to ASH, three other grant recipients across Gippsland are attempting to diversify their businesses ahead of the closure, by experimenting with new products using different timber sources.
Another local timber mill, Yarram’s Radial Timber, also received money under the fund, scoring $397,000 to introduce a small log line and experiment with processing plantation timber.
Elsewhere in Gippsland, Longwarry Sawmill recieved $246,000 to use recycled and reclaimed timber to make new timber products, and Brunt’s Harvesting in Orbost $40,000 to undertake a feasibility study for transition to plantation harvesting.
Since the state government’s announcement the native timber industry will be phased out, Australian Sustainable Hardwoods has been changing the way it does business to continue its viability beyond 2030.
Looking to stay ahead of a drop-off in supply in 2024, the Heyfield manufacturer has been investing in major capital, transforming the business into a manufacturing base with diverse feed stock, and looking to establish a line of plantation-based products.
Firmly established as a major player in the staircase tread market, the manufacturer took note of growth in the engineered flooring market.
Looking to shorten its supply chain, and a potential customer base looking to match their joinery – such as staircases – to their floors, it was a no brainer for directors.
While plantation timber requires more fine tuning than native timber, plantation shining gum proved to be a workable option, and was used in the first prototype.
The new retail outlet will sell the engineered flooring, as well as some of their existing products, such as staircase and furniture components, as well as open new markets to ASH as it prepares to transition from native timber joinery to products manufactured from plantation timber.
In order to diversify its feed stock from VicForests-supplied timber, the manufacturer has been buying plantation mountain gum from New South Wales, hardwood from HVP Plantations, and logs and sawn timber from Tasmania.
It is also Australia’s largest importer of American Oak – a species which suits ASH’s existing manufacturing systems well, as the imported slabs are able to pass through its scanning dry mills to become feed stock.Onsite on Wednesday to announce the project, Agriculture Minister Mary-Anne Thomas said the government supported innovation in the timber industry, as it transitioned from native to plantation timber.
“This is a really great project for ASH because it’s about creating new employment in the timber industry,” she said.
“We expect 22 new jobs as a consequence of this investment.”
Ms Thomas said the fund was ensuring mills had opportunities to think about the future of their industry, and look to what is increasingly in demand – manufactured timber.
“What we are doing through the Victorian Timber Innovation Fund is offering mills and those who work currently with VicForests the opportunity to come forward with their ideas as they seek to transition their businesses from native timber to plantation timber,” she said.
“It’s important to note that five out of every six trees that are currently harvested in Victoria come from plantations already, so this is part of an inevitable change in the direction of the timber industry.”