NZ forest industry back to work – next week

Friday 24 Apr 2020

The Forest Owners Association in New Zealand says its members and the supply chain are gearing up to meet the challenge of getting back to work on Tuesday 28 April, working within the health and safety provisions of Alert Level-3.

The forest industry was deemed to be a non-essential industry when the government imposed the Level 4 lockdown on 26 March. The government’s move to cease Level-4 on Tuesday 28 April means the following parts of the forest supply chain can start moving again;

• forestry management, including aerial spraying, weed and pest management
• nursery operations, planting, and seed collection
• log harvesting and haulage
• log sales
• wood products processing

MPI has advised that businesses wanting to operate in Level-3 will have to develop site- specific procedures and processes to work safely to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

FOA President, Phil Taylor, says his organisation supported the Level-4 restrictions, but now is the time to get back to work. “Right from the outset we have been focussed on the safety of our workforce.”

“We’ve moved on from one month ago. Since then, there has been a collaborative process to develop protocols for operations right through the supply chain. They are at least as robust as those which have been used in the food packing and processing industry, and as far as I am aware completely successfully.”

“The New Zealand timber processing industry has a whole month of virtually no production which it needs to catch up on. Some processers have already started producing for essential industries, such as making pallets for fruit exporters. But there will be thousands of work sites around New Zealand which are anxious for new timber supplies and construction workers keen to get back on the job and earning incomes as soon as they can.”

Phil Taylor says forest owners are just as eager to get exporting back to normal as well. “Most of the timber processed in New Zealand is for export and that sector has taken a hit over the past month of lockdown. For our log export trade, we felt the impact of COVID-19 back in February with the shutdown in China and our logs sat on the wharves on the Chinese coast when their sawmills stopped working. In March and April, the number of export log shipments will be half the number of last year. In effect, much of our harvest and logistics labour force has been in lockdown for two months, not just one. We have a lot of catching up to do.”

“The first step is for the various parts of the industry to work out their compliance with the protocols at company and individual level. We are seeking clarification from the government as to what work setting up and preparing for full production that we are able to do. For instance, there’s about NZ$40 million worth of logs around the country which are becoming marginal for timber production. We need to transport these to processors or ports pretty much immediately.”

Phil Taylor says the forest industry has concerns that uncertainty of a labour force this winter will jeopardise the planting season. “We are already late in site preparation, and for some planned planting it may already be too late.” MPI has just released its survey estimate of potentially 100 million plantation forest seedings (see story in this week’s issue) in nurseries for planting out starting next month. “That’s the highest seedling production since the early 1990s. It reflects the widespread confidence in the long-term future for New Zealand’s forest industry.”

“We are already in discussions with the government in what we need as an industry to maximise productivity and employment as we emerge from the COVID-19 crisis.”

Source: Forest Owners Association


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