Log exports restricted by COVID-19

By: Pat Cox, Photography by: Pat Cox


The COVID-19 virus continues to affect many industries, including logging in NZ

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The logging industry is in distress because of the evolving situation with COVID-19. Back in September last year, Deals on Wheels published my article about having all our eggs in one basket, and why were our exporters so fixated on China.

The simple​​ answer to that is they are greedy for money and chasing the quick buck rather than developing markets for long-term sustainable growth. The magazine received a strong response from one of the readers saying what I had written was nothing more than a rant.

But here we are, the rant has proved correct. There might be some humble pie to be eaten out there. We’re all sick to death of hearing about the pandemic. The media hysteria around it is hurting the logging industry. My neighbour who drives log trucks is now arriving home mid-afternoon when normally it’s close to 6pm.

People are running to the supermarket and buying up all the dunny paper when maybe they should be filling the basket with healthy food. Are you looking after your health? What have you done since this outbreak to improve your health?

Are you overweight and indulging in too much alcohol, fast food, and energy drinks that have been proven to have detrimental effects on your health? When was the last time you did some exercise?

It looks like the coronavirus is here to stay for at least some time and it could join the club of all the others that are now circumnavigating the world. It’s entirely your choice on how you deal with it, but one thing is absolutely clear, buying dunny paper is not one of them.

Crews have been laid off and for the crews that are fortunate to have work, this has created a surplus off loggers looking for work. This will not drive up remuneration packages; in fact, it could have a negative effect on logging wages.

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Contractors can pick and choose; existing staff will be on notice to perform knowing there’s someone knocking at their door wanting their job.  This year, when you do your GP to get a flu shot, maybe ask if the doctor also has a shot to protect us from the pinus radiata slump.

More mill closures are still happening with alarming regularity. This government promised to use more wood for government building, but has succumbed to business pressure and failed to implement this policy.

The ongoing option to find more uses and longer durability of radiata pine has bought Tunnicliffe Timbers into the market producing thermally-modified New Zealand radiata pine product called Thermo Wood 230, which is heat-treated to reduce sugar compounds that fungi feed on.

This is a non-chemical treatment but through the cooking process, steam is used to stop the timber combusting. The process does produce a durable timber but at a small cost of losing some of its strength. This is nothing new as the Vikings had worked this out and used this method on durability in their own construction.

I’ve heard of some forest managers dropping sawmills for the bigger export Chinese Yuan. They must be cap in hand now looking for those home markets. Historically, we’re continuing to go around in circles with laws governing the production of processed timber for export.

Some years ago, Fletcher Challenge tackled the American moulding market and had taken a majority share in American Wood Moulding who supply The House Depot with more than 1500 outlets across America. Fletchers took the initiative early in 2000 and have proved it can be done. 

COVID-19 should be making countries think. Do we need to have a self-sufficiency plan in place? Can New Zealand survive on its own with what we have available in our country? We live in a trading world where we’re all interlocked and rely on our trading to survive.

The human species has played with nature so much that nature is fighting back with germ warfare that’s far more deadly than guns, bullets, or nuclear bomb. In less than two months, COVID-19 has bought the world to its knees.

Kiwis have fallen into the trap of panic buying, putting undue stress on weekly incomes. KiwiSaver has taken a huge hit with investors losing thousands of dollars in just a few short weeks. The government must implement a policy that ensures calm for its people.

As for the Chinese logging market, all the ports are full of bug-infested trees bought cheaply in Europe. COVID-19 has just coincided with the start of the northern hemisphere logging season.

You have to ask the question: is the billion tree planting programme the right road to take? Should we be investing in our land to produce food to feed ourselves and the world? In a situation like this, it’s obvious we cannot eat wood; we cannot even sell our wood.

The billion-dollar fund should be used wisely and diversely across the economy and we do not need to waste a million dollars of it on travel with the technology we have in our modern world.

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