Foresters work at what to do with wall of wood
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.