In 1948, Jack Mitchell started growing native timber trees in old banana plantations to replace crops which were entirely taken out at the end of their commercial life. He decided to plant timber trees one year before the banana plants were taken out. The trees were planted in the centre of the every row of banana plants, so that the spacing was 3 metres x 3 metres. These plantings proved highly successful in taking over from the banana plantation.
Because nurseries were not propagating native trees, most of his earlier plantings were predominantly hoop pine, (Araucaria cunninghamii). Although Hoop Pine is a high quality timber, it takes too long to mature to be sustainable for private plantings.
Jack then became interested in further researching cabinet timber plantation forestry as a new industry and put in his first research plot in 1984.
In 1986, his son Ron was assisting in this field research. In 1987 Ron and Jack were involved in propagation research, because there were still no nurseries propagating native cabinet timber trees in sufficient quantities to enable plantings to be established.
In 1989 Ron wrote his thesis for his agricultural science degree on the success of their propagation research, particularly two species silver quandong (Elaeocarpus grandis) and white beech (Gmelia leichardtii) . Jack had been interested in silver quandong since the 1950's - because of its strength and flexibility as a timber, its fast growth to maturity, and its potential for cultivation.
In 1952 during a period as a building contractor Jack was impressed by silver quandong timber used for framing in early building construction. It makes very good mouldings, is easy to work, and has high strength and durability.
In 1990, Jack and Ron planted their second field research plot. The results achieved in this plot enabled a further research project in 1993 which involved planting two identical plantings, one at Samford and the other at Maleny. Comparative growth rates were recorded at three-month intervals.
Although they had difficulty in having the initial weed control in Maleny site done to their high standard, it was expected that the richer soil and higher rainfall in the Maleny site would result in greater growth rates than those of Samford. However records show that Maleny was behind Samford at 12 months. This difference has remained at the same level despite the fact the weed control management in Maleny had been brought up to par.
The difference in the growth rates demonstrated that weed control in the early stages is more important than soil quality or rainfall. This fact has been proven in many instances since then.
The first commercial plantings (with compatible mixed species to take advantage of total weed control), began in 1995 at Surrey Farm Park which was planted for the Pine Rivers Shire Council.
Continuing field research and innovations to planting design have enabled the Mitchells to mill the early thinnings of silver quandong grown at Samford after eight years. The results of timber property tests conducted by Southern Cross University in Lismore for this milled timber revealed that the quality of the timber was almost equal to that of old growth timber, with results proving to be very stable and attractive.
With this species reaching full maturity at 15 years, and the prospect of being able to use the thinnings at eight years, The Mitchell Forest Farming System has proven its worth. Results indicate that private landholders have the means to become commercial foresters of the future on areas of land as small as 1 ha, but it is preferable that commercial plantings be at least 2 ha.