Foresters work at what to do with wall of wood

South Waikato News - - RURAL DELIVERY -

It has taken years but the frag­mented for­est in­dus­try is fi­nally show­ing signs of pulling to­gether over a com­mon cause.

In about a decade, New Zealand will be face-to-face with a ‘‘wall of wood’’, as it is of­ten called.

Ev­ery year un­til then, the for­est harvest will in­crease. That leaves the for­est in­dus­try with lit­tle time to find more ex­port mar­kets, grow its felling and trans­porta­tion in­fra­struc­ture, and find more valu­able ways to use logs be­fore they leave the coun­try.

This month the panin­dus­try group, the Wood Coun­cil of New Zealand, or Woodco, will out­line a strate­gic plan at the Forest­wood con­fer­ence in Welling­ton.

Woodco chair­man Doug Ducker said it was about do­ing ‘‘our darnedest to en­sure that we take full ad­van­tage’’ of what was planted 28 to 30 years ago.

The loom­ing ‘‘wall’’ is the legacy of a log price spike in the early 1990s when farm­ers and in­vestor syn­di­cates saw a chance to get into forestry, an in­dus­try pre­vi­ously dom­i­nated by cor­po­rates. To­day, there are an es­ti­mated 10,000 to 15,000 smallscale play­ers.

Ma­tu­rity for ra­di­ata pine is roughly 28 years, which means the up­surge in wood should start about 2022.

‘‘What we’re try­ing to wake peo­ple up to is, we’re on a tra­jec­tory to get to 35 mil­lion by as early as 2022,’’ said John Stulen, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the For­est In­dus­try Con­trac­tors As­so­ci­a­tion.

He said the fi­nan­cial com­mu­nity should see forestry as a ma­jor op­por­tu­nity. ‘‘When we get this 35 mil­lion cubes and we start adding a bit of depth be­yond logs, we’ll be as im­por­tant as dairy.’’

At present, wood ex­ports are worth $4.3 bil­lion a year but it could be worth much more if more logs were pro­cessed. New Zealand is now sec­ond only to Rus­sia as the largest ex­porter of raw logs to China.

Har­vests of wood can be stag­gered but get­ting in­dus­try agree­ment on how to achieve that con­trol will not be easy. Each of the thou­sands of smaller play­ers gen­er­ally harvest when the price is right and, un­til four months ago, the price was ex­tremely good. De­mand from China has fu­elled three years of huge growth in New Zealand log ex­ports. But with China now over­sup­plied, some an­a­lysts sus­pect the good times might be over.

Welling­ton-based Hamish Le­vack, an ex­ec­u­tive mem­ber of the Farm Forestry Own­ers As­so­ci­a­tion, be­lieves small play­ers should form co­op­er­a­tives.

Le­vack’s so­lu­tion is, first, for New Zealand to aim for a sus­tain­able yield by plant­ing 20,000 hectares of trees a year be­tween now and 2022. This would en­sure the in­dus­try would not go into a bust af­ter the ini­tial wall of wood had gone. And he said foresters must in­ves­ti­gate more val­ueadded ways of pro­cess­ing it.

Woodco’s strat­egy is also likely to ac­knowl­edge that, though fur­ther pro­cess­ing is some­thing of an in­dus­try holy grail, raw log ex­ports will con­tinue to play a ma­jor role.

Fair­fax NZ

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