Signs of life for NZ forestry operations

Friday 8 May 2020

On the East Coast, the heart of the Gisborne economy is beating again as the forestry industry is back in full swing under alert level 3. About 300 forestry workers lost their jobs or had hours reduced prior to the lockdown after China, which takes over 90 percent of the region's logs, stopped doing so in February. Eastland Port has been able to retain all 50 of its staff, and its chief operating officer Andrew Gaddum was relieved it had work for them.

"There was always going to be light at the end of the tunnel on this we just had to weather the storm to get through and now we are starting to see some hope on the other side," Gaddum said. "We've seen a really, rapid ramp up in the amount of wood that's coming back into the port - in the last couple of days, we're back up to near on where we were two months ago, so it's been pretty amazing actually how quickly the supply chain, including all the trucking and harvesting, have got back up and running again."

Gaddum remained "cautiously optimistic" that the industry will continue to do well in the coming months.

Out in the bush, harvesting crews contracted by Aratu Forests have been working shorter days to give them time to adjust to the physically demanding work again and ensure no one is injured. Aratu Forests manages 10 harvesting crews, involving about 80 workers. Its chief executive, Ian Brown, said it made big changes to their operations in order to meet the level 3 guidelines.

"There's things like the smoko rooms, we've got 20 foot, 40 foot containers where people take a break for breakfast and lunch, and they sit together and socialise and that's not possible anymore, so everyone is having to meet their lunch in their own machine and talk to each other on the two way radios, rather than actually being in close proximity and being able to socialise, so it's different, really different."

While there were some layoffs when the coronavirus first brought forestry to a halt, Brown said everyone he knew had been re-employed again. "At the moment, there's more work than there are contractors, and that is particularly so with our silviculture crews, who do the planting of the trees. More >>.

And on the other side of the North Island, the forestry sector is making up for lost time. Log exports have resumed at Port Taranaki as the region's forestry industry regroups after a five-week layoff due to the coronavirus lockdown.

GJ Sole spokeswoman Noelene Sole said the trucking company was back in full operation and following health and safety requirements among the crew and drivers. A spokeswoman for RJ Dreaver Contractors said employees were driving their own cars to work to comply with physical distancing requirements.

"It's not an issue while crews are in the bush as the guys are working on their own, but we have not been able to fully use the vans," she said.

New Zealand Forestry Taranaki regional manager Cam Eyre said the month-long break had delayed pre-planting preparation. "We are behind on spraying for weeds before we plant again this winter," he said. "We will need a good weather window to catch up and be looking to plant from mid-June."

Eyre said the sector looked promising in the wake of Covid-19, with high demand from China for export logs. For Port Taranaki, the port processed 100 log trucks in the first days after the lockdown was lifted, and the logs-on-rail service from Whanganui would be fully operational by mid-May. More >>

Sources: RNZ, Stuff

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