New Zealand’s forest industry poised to resume work

Forest owners and contractors are preparing machinery and logging sites ahead of the resumption of harvesting next week, reported Wood Week.

A lot of good work had been completed in recent weeks developing safe working protocols to comply with the reduced lockdown requirements effective next Tuesday, said Phil Taylor, president of the New Zealand Forest Owners’ Association.

Clarity was being sought from officials on whether the government’s injunction to firms to get “work ready” this week included operators and drivers getting machines and trucks serviced and ready. Clearing skid sites – spaces for handling felled logs – this week could also help make the transition smoother next week.

Forestry and wood process a major employer

Forestry and wood processing is a major employer and export earner but was shut down with most manufacturing last month as the government attempted to keep as many people as possible at home to contain the spread of covid-19.

Taylor said that, while some wood processors had been able to continue supplying essential industries, most of the sector now had a month of virtually no production to catch up on.

“There will be thousands of work sites around New Zealand which are anxious for new timber supplies and construction workers keen to get back on the job and earning incomes as soon as they can.”

The government last week allowed some limited processing to restock timber supplies for things like pallets and fruit bins. It also allowed the moving of some felled logs from harvest sites to supply those mills, wood pellet plants and Oji Fibre Solutions’ pulp mill at Kinleith.

Deteriorating logs

Taylor said there is probably $40 million worth of felled logs stacked in forests. They are deteriorating the longer they are left and need transport to processors or ports “pretty much immediately,” he said in a statement.

Taylor expects processors will be ready to start picking up operations as log flows resume, and they can do that almost on a truck by truck basis.

But he said the export log trade will take a little longer to resume. Volumes for March and April are likely to be half those in the same period last year.

He said the government had been “pretty smart” in freeing up the movement of non- essential freight – including logs – last week.

That would help clear supply chains ahead of the restart and many bigger ports had already cleared export log consignments to make room for non-essential freight.

He estimated there could be as much as 250,000 tonnes of logs at some ports, such as Timaru, Picton and Eastland, but vessels would already be booked for much of that.

Shippers typically needed 25,000 tonnes to 40,000 tonnes of logs for a consignment, he said. How quickly a shipment could be organised from other ports would depend on the scale of the forestry in the regions they serve.

“It could vary from a week or so for one of the bigger catchment ports – like Tauranga – to three or four weeks for some of the smaller ports.”