Labour-intensive Albany seedling provider boosted by major State grant aimed at economy diversification

Stuart McGuckinAlbany Advertiser
Member for Albany Rebecca Stephens with Darryl Outhwaite.
Camera IconMember for Albany Rebecca Stephens with Darryl Outhwaite. Credit: Laurie Benson

An Albany-based seedling nursery has big plans for the coming months after receiving a $2 million grant from the State Government to purchase a Swedish machine that will be the first of its kind on Australian soil.

Blue Sky Renewables has been awarded funding to relocate its seedling nursery from Drome to Wilyung and to purchase a piece of specialist machinery.

Blue Sky’s Darry Outhwaite said his business, which was “rapidly outgrowing” its current site on Albany Highway, could double in size.

“So we’ll be building a big shed with new infrastructure where all the benches will be able to roll in and roll out,” he said.

“It will allow us to upskill our staff and reduce our reliance on backpacker labour, and we’ll be able to reduce a heap of risk that comes with being on our current site as well.”

Operations at Blue Sky, where they can handle as many as two million blue gum and native seedlings annually, are labour-intensive.

The business often relies on backpackers and its locally-based full-time workforce to carry out tasks by hand, from sorting seeds and planting seedlings to carrying individual trays from one place to another.

Tamz Lawrence and Wendy Hollingworth hand plant native seeds.
Camera IconTamz Lawrence and Wendy Hollingworth hand plant native seeds. Credit: Laurie Benson

The purchase of a Swedish-made planting machine, due to arrive before winter, will reduce that workload.

“The one that we are bringing out will be the first in Australia and only the eight exported out of Sweden,” Mr Outhwaite said.

“It’s a big impressive state-of-the-art machine that will be mechanically planting seedlings that we’ve only ever been able to do by hand previously.”

He said staff turnover could be high during busy periods of seedling planting because of the nature of the hard, repetitive work.

“During our worst season, we had 46 staff over a three-month period and an average (planting) crew size of six,” he said.

Wendy Hollingworth, Darryl Outhwaite, Rebecca Stephens and Tamz Lawrence.
Camera IconWendy Hollingworth, Darryl Outhwaite, Rebecca Stephens and Tamz Lawrence. Credit: Laurie Benson

After a tour of Blue Sky’s operations this week, Albany MLA Rebecca Stephens said she was pleased the investment would create more jobs.

“It’s exciting to see the expansion of Blue Sky Renewables operations in Albany being supported by the Cook Government,” she said.

The grant was one of 11 awarded to businesses through the State Government’s New Industry Development Grants, which aims to diversify local economies affected by the ban on native logging.

The grant awarded to Blue Sky was one of the biggest announced by Forestry Minister Jackie Jarvis on Wednesday, with most other $9.5 of funding directed to recipients based in the South West — including six in Manjimup.

Hand planting native seeds.
Camera IconHand planting native seeds. Credit: Laurie Benson

Ms Jarvis said almost 2,000,000ha of native forests would be protected for future generations because of the decision to end commercial logging, which came into effect on January 1.

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