NZ: Back to work in the forest

Wednesday 22 Apr 2020

 
Forest owners and contractors are preparing machinery and logging sites ahead of the resumption of harvesting next week

- Phil Taylor (pictured), president of the New Zealand Forest Owners’ Association, said 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.

But 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.

“Come Tuesday we’re going to get up to speed pretty quickly across most of the value chain,” Taylor told BusinessDesk.

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. Food producers and firms supplying them, including pallet makers and packaging firms, were able to operate regardless of whether they were supplying domestic or overseas markets.

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 approved the moving of some felled logs from harvest sites to supply those mills, wood pellet plants and Oji Fibre Solutions’ pulp mill at Kinleith.

But harvesting - which employs up to 10,000 people as felling crews, drivers and equipment suppliers - remained banned. Including processors and logistics chains, the sector is estimated to employ about 35,000.

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.

Consignment requirements

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.”

The first vessel in a month is expected today at Eastland, the country’s second-largest log port. Two more are due Sunday and Tuesday, according to the port’s shipping schedule.

Port Marlborough expects a log ship on Thursday. PrimePort Timaru has a log ship booked to arrive next Tuesday.

Port of Tauranga, the country’s largest, handled 13 log ships in the first half of April. One sailed yesterday and another is expected next Thursday.

Northport has handled seven log ships so far this month, including one that sailed on Sunday. The next is due on Thursday.

More from RNZ - Listen to an interview with Phil Taylor >>

Source: BusinessDesk and RNZ


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