Sawmillers in­vest $900m in in­dus­try fu­ture

Australian Forests and Timber - - Front Page -

Aus­tralian sawmillers and as­so­ci­ated man­u­fac­tur­ers in­vested an es­ti­mated $900 mil­lion over the past five years in ef­fi­ciency and pro­duc­tiv­ity ini­tia­tives on the back of strong de­mand for tim­ber fu­elled by the boom­ing hous­ing mar­ket.

The in­vest­ment comes de­spite un­cer­tainty around the fu­ture avail­abil­ity of logs to process, with Aus­tralia’s sawn wood pro­duc­tion set to fall in­creas­ingly short of de­mand – the deficit in sawn tim­ber is likely to rise from a pre­dicted 1.1 mil­lion cu­bic me­tres in 2025 to 2.7 mil­lion cu­bic me­tres in 2045.

Th­ese were among the find­ings of a new re­search re­port com­mis­sioned by For­est and Wood Prod­ucts Aus­tralia (FWPA) ex­am­in­ing the sums in­vested, ar­eas of in­vest­ment and ben­e­fits sought across soft­wood and hard­wood sawmillers, panel plants and ply­wood op­er­a­tions.

Data in the re­port by Omega Con­sult­ing shows a com­bined to­tal of $473 mil­lion was in­vested be­tween 2012 and 2017 by the op­er­a­tions sur­veyed – im­ply­ing to­tal in­vest­ment across the en­tire in­dus­try of ap­prox­i­mately $938 mil­lion.

Anec­do­tal stake­holder feed­back sug­gested con­di­tions are cur­rently buoy­ant, thanks to the boom­ing Aus­tralian hous­ing mar­ket, and the in­dus­try’s sig­nif­i­cant ex­pan­sion ca­pac­ity is be­ing recog­nised.

Jim Houghton, Statis­tics and Eco­nom­ics Man­ager of FWPA, wel­comed the in­vest­ment.

“Tech­nol­ogy could help in­dus­try to in­crease the amount of sawn tim­ber pro­duced from the same vol­ume of logs, and boost the use of residues to form new and in­no­va­tive ma­te­ri­als.

“The anal­y­sis demon­strated in­vest­ment is healthy and a def­i­nite pri­or­ity within the in­dus­try. This level of in­vest­ment can only mean pos­i­tive things for the fu­ture of our in­dus­try. The anec­do­tal feed­back from pro­ces­sors also sug­gests more could be done if there were greater cer­tainty around fu­ture log sup­ply,” he said.

Sawmill ef­fi­ciency and pro­duc­tiv­ity need to be in­creased if we’re go­ing to re­duce the log sup­ply deficit and in­spire in­dus­try stake­hold­ers with the con­fi­dence they need to make op­ti­mum in­vest­ments

“The un­cer­tainty over fu­ture log sup­ply can be at­trib­uted to the lim­ited ex­pan­sion of the soft­wood plan­ta­tion es­tate dur­ing the past 20 years and re­sul­tant static avail­abil­ity of soft­wood sawlogs. Con­cur­rently, the avail­abil­ity of hard­wood sawlogs has de­clined as ac­cess to the na­tive for­est has been re­duced.”

The CEO of Omega Con­sult­ing, Peter Zed, said the pre­dicted deficit in sawn wood was due to in­creas­ing de­mand driven by pre­dicted pop­u­la­tion growth.

“A whole-of-in­dus­try ap­proach is needed to ad­dress sup­ply is­sues, re­duce the deficit, and help pre­vent it from caus­ing a sig­nif­i­cant bar­rier to fu­ture in­vest­ment,” he said.

“Both sawmill ef­fi­ciency and pro­duc­tiv­ity need to be in­creased if we’re go­ing to re­duce the log sup­ply deficit and in­spire in­dus­try stake­hold­ers with the con­fi­dence they need to make op­ti­mum in­vest­ments.

“This can be achieved through an in­creased fo­cus on prod­uct niche and ded­i­cated R&D around tech­nolo­gies to in­crease re­cov­er­ies.”

Sawmill up­grades. Photos by AE Gib­son.

■ Jim Houghton, FWPA Statis­tics and Eco­nom­ics Man­ager.

■ Peter Zed CEO of Omega Con­sult­ing.

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