Friday Offcuts 23 February 2024
Australia's housing market faces challenges amidst a significant slowdown, with construction numbers plummeting due to various factors including rising material costs and tighter lending restrictions. Builders and first- home buyers bear the brunt of these issues, prompting calls for reform in housing policies. Amidst the turmoil, the timber industry experiences mixed effects across regions, signalling the need for ongoing support measures.
Environmental issues take centre stage in NZ again this week, one year after Cyclone Gabrielle sent 1.4 million tonnes of wood debris down the East Coast’s steep, fragile hillsides. Councils say that one year they’re working with local forestry companies to ensure that the surrounding hill country “is being planted and harvested with care”.
Forestry companies, whilst continually working to minimise damage downstream from its forest operations, keeps pushing for a more collaborative approach to land management upstream to counter the steep, erodible soils and changing weather patterns that the region’s grappling with. One of the larger forestry companies in the region, Ernslaw One, also has had its FSC certification suspended as a consequence of some of the downstream damage from forestry debris. These and other key issues will be discussed at the upcoming FIEA event, Environmental Forestry 2024, being held on 25-26 June 2024 in Rotorua, New Zealand.
In other news, technological innovations, like unmanned forestry machines and electric hybrid vehicles, offer promising avenues for sustainability and efficiency in wood harvesting and transport.
Economic challenges, environmental stewardship and innovation are key themes this week. Read these and more in another packed edition of Friday Offcuts. Enjoy the read.
This week we have for you:
Call to reform housing construction in AustraliaThe Australian housing market is experiencing a significant slowdown, with the number of new home construction dropping dramatically from 42,000 in June 2021 to less than 23,000 in the September 2023 quarter. This decline is attributed to a combination of rising material costs, higher mortgage rates, and decreased consumer confidence.
Builders are under stress, as projects shrink and existing contracts cancelled due to cost increases exceeding initial budgets. First- home buyers are particularly impacted, facing significant affordability challenges due to increased costs and tighter lending restrictions.
The timber industry is seeing mixed effects, with some regions facing flow-on effects from the slowdown while others remain buoyant due to previous investments.
Industry experts express cautious optimism for a potential rebound in 2024, but call for ongoing support measures for first-home buyers. Proposed solutions include reforming stamp duty, accelerating land release, and loosening lending restrictions to increase market accessibility.
Source: ABC South East SA
Ernslaw One loses certification over slash damageNew Zealand's Ernslaw One has been stripped of its Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification due to extensive slash damage in and around Tolaga Bay, New Zealand. Ernslaw One is NZ's fourth largest forest manager, with over 95,000 hectares throughout the country.
This damage dates back to 2018 and continues to cause issues, with locals citing concerns about thousands of affected areas. The lack of clear ownership over the wood makes pinpointing responsibility difficult, but filmed evidence points to Ernslaw One being a major grower in impacted areas.
Experts, including Hekia Parata, chair of the Ministerial Inquiry into Land Use, view this as a significant environmental disaster and call for wider audits across the country. Ernslaw One, however, is appealing the suspension.
When RNZ asked for a copy of the audit report, a spokesperson for Ernslaw said that they were "not privy" to the findings of the report which led to its suspension, because the audit was carried into the third-party organisation which certified New Zealand forests for the Forest Stewardship Council (SGS) not into Ernslaw itself.
RNZ is seeking comment from SGS. In an email, Ernslaw said it was engaging with SGS on how the suspension could be resolved. "Remediation of the matters underpinning the suspension is well underway," it said.
This incident highlights the importance of forest management and best practices in environmental protection. With extreme weather events becoming more frequent, this will continue to be a growing issue. Industry leaders will be meeting in June this year to discuss these issues in FIEA's Environmental Forestry 2024 event.
Source: 1News, RNZ
One year on - threat from fragile hills growsOne year ago, all hell broke loose in Tairāwhiti when Cyclone Gabrielle propelled 1.4 million tonnes of wood debris down the East Coast’s steep, fragile hillsides into rivers and on to bridges, homes, farms, roads and beaches below.
Though the region, which has some of the world’s most erodible soils, was familiar with the effects of extreme weather events - just a month earlier Cyclone Hale had plunged it into a state of emergency and sent a mountain of wood debris and silt barrelling down hillsides - Gabrielle brought one battering too many from its forestry sector.
Gisborne Mayor Rehette Stoltz called it “carnage” and the reason for the outrage and despair was evident to the whole country after essential bridges and roads were smashed, scenic beaches turned into dangerous eyesores - a child died playing in the debris - and property wrecked.
As the region’s tiny, and only, local authority, the Gisborne District Council - its rates income in the 2022-2023 year was barely NZ$81 million - faced an enormous infrastructure recovery effort, the then Labour Government launched a ministerial inquiry into local land use.
The district council had successfully prosecuted a handful of forestry companies over operational rules breaches since 2018 and the people of Tairawhiti were in full revolt against an important, but now loathed, contributor to the local economy. A year on, what’s changed in the Tairāwhiti forestry industry, last valued in 2020 at NZ$480m?
The Tairāwhiti Resource Management Plan is also being reviewed. As part of this, council staff are mapping the most at-risk land, which will help identify where current land use is appropriate and signal where a land use change is needed.
The council, she says, is working with the local forestry sector to ensure steep, erosion-prone hill country “is planted and harvested with care”, and a dedicated forestry taskforce team has been created “to ensure proper land use practices to reduce the high sediment load and waste wood entering waterways”.
The local forestry industry has a vastly different view on progress. There’s been a “knee-jerk” reaction of new rules that risks “a huge number of unintended consequences”, says Eastland Wood Council chairman Warren Rance. Worse, he says, there’s still a scary, big danger lurking in the hills.
On reflecting on the impacts of the severe weather events of 2023 as the anniversary of Cyclone Gabrielle is marked, the Eastland Wood Council has vowed to continue to support the region’s cyclone recovery efforts and “seek out new and innovative ways” to build sustainability and mitigate risks in forestry. Read more
Source: NZ Herald, Gisborne Herald, Eastland Wood Council
Researchers develop unmanned forestry machineIn a groundbreaking study published in the Journal of Field Robotics, researchers assessed the world’s first unmanned machine designed for autonomous forestry operations. By leveraging computer vision, autonomous navigation, and manipulator control algorithms, this newly developed machine can safely and accurately pick up logs from the ground and navigate through diverse forest terrains without human intervention.
This achievement marks a significant milestone in the field of autonomous outdoor robotics, potentially reducing the need for human labour, enhancing productivity, and curbing labour costs while minimising the environmental impact of timber harvesting.
Corresponding author Pedro La Hera, PhD, from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, emphasised that these technological advancements not only improve timber harvesting efficiency but also promote sustainable forestry practices. Automated operations can minimise collateral damage to adjacent ecosystems, making them more ecologically friendly.
Source and image credit: Wiley
FEA Update: China softwood log inventoriesChina’s Softwood Log Inventories at Ocean Ports -- FEA industry sources in China report that softwood log inventories at the country’s main ocean ports totalled 2.5 million m³ on January 27, up 1.4% (+35,000 m³) from late December, as follows:
Average daily sales reached 57,875 m³ in January, versus 17,650 m³ in January 2023 and 45,000 m³ in January 2022. Of note, the Spring Festival Day this year is on February 10; this is 19 days later than in 2023 and 9 days later than in 2022. The majority of mills cease production only at the end of January and take three to four weeks off for the holiday. Production is expected to return to normal following February 24’s Lantern Festival. Therefore, February will be a quieter month this year than previously.
For more information on FEA’s China Bulletin where this data is reported monthly, please visit https://getfea.com/publication/china-bulletin, or contact Matt Robertson at email@example.com.
In-forest electric or electric hybrid machinesOn-site and virtual registrations to this year’s Wood Transport & Logistics 2024 event are now streaming in. Interest in the pre-conference workshops including the LTSC Driver Certification and the Trimble Forestry using integrated e-docket workflows workshops likewise continue to flow in.
With a focus on large wood transport fleets now rolling out operationally a raft of alternate fuels to decarbonise their trucking fleets, the event this year is also looking at some novel approaches and trucking configurations set up to extract wood off steeper slopes being taken by Offroad Trucking Services and Pacific Haulage.
The Wood Transport & Logistics 2024 event will also, for the first time, explore efforts being made to use alternative fuels inside the forest by log harvesting operations. Mike Hurring Logging has been operating NZ’s first Logset 8H GTE diesel-electric hybrid wheeled harvester in production thinning operations in Otago/Southland forests.
And from Finland, Ponsse has teamed up with Epec, a manufacturing company that specialises in electric/hybrid electric vehicle and autonomous systems, to develop another first, an electric machine concept for forwarders with 15-tonne load- carrying capacity. Epec's technology has already been used in electric or hybrid-electric commercial vehicles and non-road mobile machines.
As part of this year’s Wood Transport & Logistics 2024 event, both Mike Hurring and Ponsse will be providing early insights for local forestry companies and contractors on future options for taking electric or electric hybrid machines out into the forest.
Full programme details and information on the 22-23 May event being run in Rotorua, New Zealand (and on-line for those outside of NZ and Australia) can be found on the event website
Wooden satellite to take flightJapanese scientists are launching a unique "LignoSat" probe made entirely of magnolia wood. This experiment tests the viability of wood as an environmentally friendly alternative to metals in satellite construction.
Why wood? Traditional satellites leave harmful aluminium particles in the atmosphere upon re-entry. Wood, however, burns into harmless ash. The project began with lab tests and exposure trials on the ISS, proving wood's surprising resilience in space. Magnolia emerged as the strongest choice.
The coffee mug-sized LignoSat will launch mid-year and operate for at least six months. It will measure wood's performance in orbit, addressing potential issues like deformation. Success could pave the way for future wooden satellites, mitigating the growing problem of space debris and its environmental impact.
Source: The Guardian
Blue gum expansion & mechanised planting plannedAustralia's dwindling timber reserves could be exhausted in less than a decade, but industry experts are hoping a new native nursery in Western Australia could help ease the pressure. In the coastal city of Albany, 450 kilometres south of Perth, Form Forests and Environment director Darryl Outhwaite grows native Australian plants for carbon capture and revegetation projects right across the state.
The bulk of his trees, however, are destined for blue gum plantations that dot the south-west landscape and feed paper pulp mills. Following the Cook government's native logging ban, the Albany tree farmer is expanding the nursery from two to three million seedlings a year to keep up with demand, and purchased a mechanised planting machine — the first of its kind in Australia.
Mr Outhwaite said the planter had already been earmarked to plant trees in plantations that produce timber for WA's housing construction industry. "The planting machine will be doing 50 percent of its work in the softwood pine estate this winter," he said.
"The government put AU$350 million into expanding its state pine estate and the planting machine will be a very important tool in getting that project done."
Source: ABC Great Southern
SnapSTAT - Has NZ reached 'peak' wood exports?
Source: Overseas Merchandise Trade: Quantity of Principal Exports (Annual- Jun) 2023
California forests healthier when burned — or thinnedA 20-year experiment in the Sierra Nevada confirms that different forest management techniques — prescribed burning, restoration thinning or a combination of both — are effective at reducing the risk of catastrophic wildfire in California.
These treatments also improve forest health, making trees more resilient to stressors like drought and bark beetles, and they do not negatively impact plant or wildlife biodiversity within individual tree stands, the research found. The findings of the experiment, called the Fire Surrogate Study, are published online in the journal Ecological Applications.
“The research is pretty darn clear that these treatments are effective — very effective,” said study lead author Scott Stephens, a professor of fire science at the University of California, Berkeley. “I hope this lets people know that there is great hope in doing these treatments at scale, without any negative consequences.”
Scion joins Australian Advance Timber HubScion has announced its formal membership in The Australian Research Council (ARC) Advance Timber Hub. This five-year, $16.5 million research initiative was recently launched at The University of Queensland, Australia, on January 31st, in the presence of industry leaders, academic partners, and government officials including Senator Hon Anthony Chisholm, Assistant Minister for Education and Assistant Minister for Regional Development.
The primary objective of the ARC Advance Timber Hub is to drive innovation in the Australian mid-rise building market, which represents a significant portion of the country's construction industry valued at approximately AU$80 billion annually. This initiative has the potential to revolutionise both timber processing and construction sectors. By leveraging international expertise in advanced timber manufacturing, the Hub also presents substantial opportunities for optimising forestry resources, including those in Aotearoa New Zealand.
At Scion, Henri Bailleres and his team, comprising Tripti Singh, Romain Meot, and Diego Elustondo, are eager to collaborate with the Advance Timber Hub to explore avenues that can benefit both the industry and forests of Aotearoa New Zealand. Our goal is to foster strong partnerships with the Australian timber building sector, fostering synergy between our nations in a shared market.
Administered by The University of Queensland’s School of Civil Engineering, the ARC Advance Timber Hub brings together a diverse range of stakeholders including innovators, developers, technology providers, designers, fire engineers, forestry experts, and government representatives. With participation from 12 Australian universities and five international universities and research institutes, the Hub is poised to drive significant advancements in timber processing and construction technologies.
Scion sees immense value in joining the Hub, as it provides a platform to contribute our innovative expertise and secure opportunities for our resources and timber products. Together, we look forward to shaping the future of timber innovation and sustainable construction practices in Australia and beyond. To learn more please visit www.advance-timber- hub.org
Photo: Assistant Minister Anthony Chisholm, Professor Keith Crews, Professor Rachel Parker and ARC Acting CEO, Dr Richard Johnson
Source & Photo: Scion
Boost to electrify Australian trucking fleetsAustralian start-up NewVolt has revealed plans to build an electric truck charging network along the east coast of Australia, enabling the decarbonisation of the country’s major road freight routes and potentially saving billions of dollars spent on imported diesel a year.
NewVolt plans to have its first truck charging station up and running in Melbourne in 2025, followed by another 14 sites in key precincts in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and the Hume Highway from 2027, and then a 40-site metropolitan expansion, with the Pacific, Newell, Sturt & Western Highway connections anticipated from 2030.
The sites will be fully powered by renewable energy with regional truck stops tapping into their own locally produced solar power. The sites will also include a driver lounge, access to office space, wifi and amenities.
“Australia needs to be fully charged and ready for electrified freight,” said Andy Evans, chairman and co-founder of NewVolt. The NewVolt Network is designed to provide Australia with a pathway to decarbonise road freight by delivering price-certain, reliable, renewable energy through a national network of shared charging infrastructure.”
Electrifying fleets a rational choice for trucking industry
Unlike the consumer vehicle market, in which car makers use advertising to tap into customers’ emotions to sell their vehicles, trucking is just about the numbers. And the numbers for electrifying road freight are very compelling, with the potential to save the trucking industry billions of dollars per year.
NewVolt is collaborating with truck manufacturers to offer long term contracts with fixed charging fees to give trucking operators the confidence to make the switch and start reaping the benefits.
The company says that Australia consumed around 16 billion litres of diesel in 2023, costing the country around $30 billion. Based on their projections, which include 50% growth in road freight by 2040, NewVolt says the electrification of the entire trucking industry would require around 70,000 GWh of renewable energy per year.
Data encryption critical for supply chain digitalisationCloud computing has emerged as the foundational technology in transforming the nature and pace of global supply chains. By simplifying and accelerating the deployment of complex systems for operations and procurement, the cloud makes it possible to set up and manage interconnected networks that expedite commerce. It bestows unprecedented flexibility and scalability.
However, like many transformative technologies, the cloud also introduces a significant new element of risk for supply chain participants. This article explores threats to data, and what can be done to mitigate the potential for data breaches and resulting business impacts. In particular, it looks at the role of data encryption in protecting sensitive data from attack.
When it comes to security, the cloud is very different from traditional, wholly- owned on-premises information technology (IT). Before the cloud, most companies deployed systems and software onto infrastructure they controlled, in data centres they either owned or leased. Cybersecurity was the responsibility of the system owner.
Integrating encryption, implementing robust security protocols, and fostering a culture of cyber-awareness are no longer optional; they are the essential ingredients for a resilient and secure supply chain. In a world where data is the new currency, investing in its security is not just a wise move, it’s the only way to ensure a future where supply chains thrive.
Source: Supply Chain Connect
Buy and Sell
... and one to end the week on ... a different pet
A man walks into a pet shop and says to the owner. "Ok I want to buy a pet, but I
don't want a boring or normal pet - no cats, dogs, or birds - I want something
different." The pet shop owner informs him that he has a talking centipede.
"Really?," the man replied, "How much?" The owner informs him that the talking
centipede is $50. Happy with the unusual offering, the man pays the money and takes
his new pet home.
And on that note, enjoy your weekend. Cheers.
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