DANA FORESTRY CONFERENCE
Some of the heavy-hitters of the forestry industry came together in Taupo for the 2018 DANA conference to background the progress made by their companies and comment on recent trends.
THAT SO-CALLED WALL OF WOOD COULD pass much quicker than originally forecast as a result of the recent practice of harvesting younger trees.
According to forestry consultant, Jeff Tombleson, ‘peak wood’ could actually occur as soon as next year – that’s right, 2019.
He told the 2018 DANA Forestry Conference in Taupo last month that official MPI statistics that show the Wall of Wood starting around now and continuing for much of the next decade, with a peak around 2024, is probably wrong.
That’s partly due to inaccuracies in the figures, and partly because trees are being harvested at a much earlier age.
Mr Tombleson was presenting an update on his research about the upcoming shortage of clear wood in the central North Island, as a result of many forest owners going away from pruning.
When he surveyed forest owners in the central North Island recently he also discovered that the average age for harvesting has been around 25 years, which equates with the peak of planting back in the 1990s.
“Many commentators are saying that the Wall of Wood from the 1990s planting boom is a little way out, it’s not – peak wood is 2019, as far as the central North Island is concerned, and I’m seeing this from harvesting contractors I talk to already,” he says.
“I believe that we are on the top of the curve currently and then it’s all downhill from there and it will impact on harvesting contractors, log transporters and everyone else, not just the mills.”
The peak will differ from region-toregion, Mr Tombleson concedes, but there is evidence of trees being harvested at younger ages in other areas and when the forestry resources of New Zealand are taken as a whole, he believes the overall picture is one of an earlier peak than has been forecast.
Meanwhile, the news is even more grim for saw mills and wood processors who require pruned logs to continue doing business in the central North Island – a total of 12 mills.
His updated peak wood forecast means the supply of pruned logs for domestic use will reduce much quicker than originally envisaged.
Mr Tombleson says the central North Island mills will now face a cut of 50% in pruned log supply by 2020 as key forests like Taumata (Kinleith) run out and other factors come into play.
In particular, he says previous assumptions that some of the upcoming shortfall could be made up by diverting the 40% of pruned logs that are thought to be currently exported back to local mills are wrong.
“We don’t export 40% of our pruned wood,” he says. “My follow-up research shows that just 10% of the pruned harvest is exported, so there is little or no opportunity to pick up the slack in terms of diminishing wood supply.”
That means we’ll see a drop from the current volume of 1.2 million tonnes of pruned logs supplied from central North Island forests in 2017, tumbling to just 600,000 tonnes – much faster than earlier thought. And by 2037 just 15% of the current pruned log total will be available to the mills.
“This will commercially compromise the mills that rely on clear wood and many will be forced to close if they cannot find alternatives,” adds Mr Tombleson.
On a brighter note, Mr Tombleson says that if the government’s One Billion Trees programme succeeds, it will produce a mega wood market for industrial grade logs, leading to the requirement for another Red Stag-size super saw mill.
Harvesting trees at a younger age has helped to bring forward the Wall of Wood.