Friday Offcuts – 20 September 2019

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This week saw the completion of a very successful Wood Technology week in Melbourne, Australia. The second leg of FIEA’s WoodTECH 2019 series ran earlier in the week for local sawmilling companies. Around 350 have attended the latest two-yearly update as part of the Australasian series. The focus has been on new technologies and innovations designed to improve local mill’s production speeds from their saw-lines along with their lumber yields. Sawmilling trouble-shooters have also been outlining a raft of inexpensive operating practices that can be employed to get more out of the existing equipment and mill set-up. Details, resources and links to presentations made over the last two weeks will be sent out to all delegates later next week.

Recently, the Institute of Foresters of Australia undertook a survey (with Offcuts readers participating) on “The Future of Forestry in Australia”. The short survey aimed to capture the mood in forestry in Australia at this particular point of time and across the different industries within the sector. Around 329 people from across the country responded. The results were presented at the ANZIF conference held in Christchurch, New Zealand in late August.

Survey respondents were on the whole very positive about the future of forestry, and, in particular the plantation sector. There was a strong theme of unrealised potential. For some, they felt that community sentiments were actually shifting towards support for forestry based on the importance of forests for meeting human needs and tackling climate change. Regardless of where or what field they worked in, survey respondents overwhelmingly wanted to see concerted and effective community engagement that builds public support, challenges misconceptions and promotes what we do and why. For your information, a link to the survey results is supplied in this week’s story.

And finally, as an extension to the goal of mechanised harvesting operations being controlled offsite, we’ve included a story this week about a small US start-up company that’s pipped the real heavyweights in the autonomous trucking space. They’ve got their own autonomous trucks onto the highway. Unlike the competition out there at the moment though, there’s no driver in the cab. Instead they’re driving the rig from an office or room up to 500 miles away. Check it out in this week’s story and video clip. And on that tech note, enjoy this week’s read.



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The future of forestry in Australia

For the 2019 Australian and New Zealand Institutes of Foresters (ANZIF) conference held from the 26th August in Christchurch, the Institute of Foresters of Australia presented a plenary on the future of forestry in Australia. Michelle Freeman who undertook the survey and presented the findings wasn’t going to presume to have the authority to speak on behalf of everyone about such a large topic, so she decided to represent the future of forestry in Australia as told to her by people working in forestry in Australia. So, about a month before the conference she set about seeking feedback via a short survey, the results of which she shared at the conference and here now.

Read the survey results here.

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Asian wood demand drives $230m investment in NZ

The growing need in emerging markets for building materials and fuel has spurred Japanese trading houses to expand their forestry operations. Sumitomo Corp plans to spend about 25 billion yen ($231 million) on acquiring more pine forest in New Zealand, one of the Asia-Pacific region's major timber exporters, looking to double its acreage by 2021.

The group also will invest about 6 billion yen to expand a lumber mill in Russia's Far East run by Terneyles, a logging company in which Sumitomo holds a 49% stake. Terneyles manages 2.85 million hectares of forest in the region and exports building materials to East Asian markets.

Rival trading house Marubeni will revamp its tree-planting operations in Indonesia to boost timber output by 50% to more than 2 million tons a year around 2025. That is expected to be the peak harvest period for the company's eucalyptus trees there, which take six or more years to mature. The wood from this plantation goes to a nearby pulp and paper plant. Marubeni now looks to tap markets for other applications as well, such as biomass power.

Forestry is becoming an earnings source for both groups. Sumitomo's New Zealand and Russian forest operations generate just over 2 billion yen in annual net profit, a figure it aims to boost to nearly 5 billion yen by 2022.

Marubeni's forestry and paper and pulp operations earned a combined 6.2 billion yen in net profit during fiscal 2018. This could rise to more than 10 billion yen in the mid-2020s, depending on market conditions, a company source said.

Research into new technologies using wood could boost demand for timber further. Japanese developer Sumitomo Forestry announced plans last year for a wooden skyscraper, while strong yet lightweight wood-derived nanocellulose draws attention as a potential alternative to plastic.

Source: asia.nikkei.com

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Presenter profiles – ForestTECH 2019

ForestTECH 2019, this region’s annual gathering of resource managers, remote sensing, GIS and mapping specialists, inventory foresters and technology providers into this part of the forestry industry, runs again in November. Full details on the programmes along with details on the four workshops being run in conjunction with this years series, can be found on the event website; ForestTECH.events.

This week we profile some of this year’s presenters and presentations.

James Saunders, Swift Geospatial Solutions, South Africa

Satellite and location-based services have come a long way in the past few years. They have rapidly become accessible, affordable and easy to manage. Along with a multitude in advances in cloud computing, the forestry industry has seen great benefit in new products which are now affordable and accessible.

By mixing satellite data with on the ground data collection through web connected mobile devices, forestry experts can now get up to the minute data of what is happening on the ground like never before. This approach to forestry management decision support data is being presented by looking at a real-world example.

Matthew Aghai, DroneSeed Co, USA

DroneSeed and its planting technology were recently covered in a previous issue.

Their business model: They are paid per acre as a service to plant tree seeds and spray to protect them. They use drone swarms to revegetate forests and rangelands post-wildfire.

Their current customers: Since 2016 they have been working for three of the five largest timber companies in the US, as well as indigenous land ownerships and non-industrial land owners. They have also signed a contract with The Nature Conservancy for rangeland restoration.

Their technology: They have three pieces of technology they bring to projects to boost survival rates of limited seed:

1. Software to manage a swarm and boost seed survival. They have built the software to manage drone swarms and mission planning in the field. They have also built it to utilise LiDAR and Multi-spectral imagery to build a 3D terrain map and identify micro-sites and terrain features to deliver their seed vessels to targeted areas where they can connect with soil.

2. Hardware to manage economics. A single drone is the world's most expensive backpack sprayer. A group of drones can carry payloads competitive with small helicopters, each carrying 57lbs of payload. They also built the on the charging trucks and hardware to allow teams to operate like NASCAR pit crews and keep drones in the air more of the day boosting unit economics.

3. Seed vessels to boost seed survival. They have worked with nursery supply chain leaders to develop several tools that fit each species or biome. This means they have four seed vessels including: pelleting, capsules, or more advanced fibre-based micro-site enhancing projectiles. They avoid a 1-size fits all and match the difficulty of edaphic conditions with considerations of seed biology to optimize survival rate per acre.

They are notable as they are leading the space: They are the first and only company FAA approved to use heavy lift swarms of up to 5 aircraft, each carrying 57lbs.

Dan Kluskiewicz, Northwest Management, Inc, USA

ALS-assisted single-tree forest inventories present a wealth of opportunity for more productive and efficient forest management. They will be presenting on a collaborative effort between NMI, Interpine and partners in the SMART Forest Solutions team to construct an accurate single-tree inventory in a 20,000 hectare study area in eastern Arizona, US.

This enables the full potential of this detailed inventory with a combination of individual-tree growth and log-merchandising for sawmill management to be exploited. They will demonstrate the predictive capability of their methods for individual-tree and stand-level forest attributes, and discuss actionable information that they and their partners used this inventory to produce.

Andrew Kemsley, Forestry Corporation NSW, Australia

After having undergone a Remote Pilots Licence course and been issued a UAV - now what? More and more companies are issuing UAVs with often little direction given to the recipients. Hear from a forester's down to earth experiences, inspiring you to utilise this technology more often in day to day forest use. As he shares his tips obtained through trial and error you will walk away with the bare bones essentials for better navigating the forest environment and the range of tools to assist better forest management.



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Radiata pine has a superpower

Pinus Radiata grows like a weed, which is why it’s so fast at sequestering carbon. But since many people prefer native trees, forestry scientists are proposing an unconventional solution to get the best of both worlds.

To measure how much carbon is in a tree, you first have to kill it. You slice up the trunk, branches, twigs, leaves and roots and dry the dismembered tree parts in an oven. Then you weigh them.

“It takes a long time,” says Euan Mason, a professor at the University of Canterbury’s School of Forestry. “I did some in 2012 with two students, and in six weeks I think we did 25 trees.” Sacrificing trees like this is expensive, but researchers need these measurements. Typically, about half a tree’s dry weight is carbon, which you can multiply by roughly 3.7 to work out how much carbon dioxide the tree has sucked from the atmosphere.

Once enough trees of different ages and species have been dissected, the results are used to help build computer models estimating how much carbon is in a hectare of living forest, or an entire country’s worth of trees.

Forest owners can use models like this to see how much money they can claim for carbon credits under the Emissions Trading Scheme. Similar estimates tell the Ministry for the Environment that New Zealand’s forests removed 24 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent from the atmosphere in 2017, enough to offset 29 percent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Most of this CO2 was absorbed by Pinus Radiata, a species much-loved by commercial foresters for its astonishing rate of growth, but seemingly little-loved by anyone in the general population.

Radiata became the nation’s wood crop after most of our ancient Kauri forests were destroyed by indiscriminate logging in the 1880s. (“I wouldn’t call it forestry, because it was just pillaging,” says Mason).

Permanent indigenous forest still covers a much larger area than pine - almost quarter of the country, compared with 6.6 percent in wood plantations. But old-growth forests on conservation land are excluded from the tallies of New Zealand’s carbon sinks and emissions. (This sounds less insane after you find out that mature forests often reach a steady state, sucking about the same amount of CO2 they are losing from dead wood.)

Radiata has a superpower: It is adept at growing fast and hoovering carbon dioxide while it's still young, leaving other trees in a cloud of wood-chip. Some tree species hunker down and stop growing when the days get shorter, but Radiata grows throughout the winter in northern New Zealand, taking full advantage of the Mediterranean climate, says Mason.

It also seems to benefit from a phenomenon researchers call the ‘exotic species effect’. “If we take a species out of its natural range, it becomes an exotic and grows faster,” says Mason. “There’s only a small amount of evidence, but we think it probably has to do with endemic pests that we don’t bring with the exotic species, particularly soil organisms.”

More >>

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Vale Glenn Britton

Along with the timber industry from across Australia, the Australian Forest Products Association (AFPA) this week extended its condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Tasmanian timber stalwart Glenn Britton, Managing Director of Tasmanian timber company, Britton Timbers, who passed away last week aged 76. Mr Britton died at the Royal Hobart Hospital last Thursday night, following a stroke.

“I knew Glenn for more than 30 years and have always found him to be a direct and passionate advocate for the Tasmanian forest industry. He provided strong leadership and advocacy through incredibly trying times in an era of significant state and federal government forest policy change. His passing marks the end of a great life dedicated to furthering forest industries,” AFPA Chair, Mr Greg McCormack said today.

The Britton story is one of true ingenuity. Glenn’s forebears, Elijah and Mark Britton were pioneers who set up camp in Tasmania’s North West in 1907, before establishing a small bush mill. For more than half a century Glenn, along with his brothers Ross, Donald and Michael and more recently his nephew Shawn, have led the North West Smithton-based family business Britton Timbers, first born in the early 20th century. When Glenn commenced in the business in the mid-1960s total employment was 25 people, under Glenn’s leadership the total employment by the Britton Timbers group has grown to almost 200.

Glenn believed fervently in the collaborative power of strong industry associations to assist in furthering the opportunities for forest industries. Glenn was a Director of the Forest Industries Association of Tasmania (FIAT) for over 40 years and was the elected Chairman for 20 years. He was also a Board Member of Brand Tasmania, a Director of the Gottstein Trust, a Director of the Forest Education Foundation, Chair of the Tasmanian Timber Promotion Board and Tasmanian Sawmillers Industrial Association, and a Director of the Burnie Port Authority.

“We have lost a true icon not only of Tasmania’s, but also Australia’s forest industries. The passion and commitment of Glenn Britton will be missed by all, including family, friends, colleagues and employees, as well as the wider forest industry and Tasmanian community. Vale Glenn Britton,” Mr McCormack concluded.

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NZ's first all-female forestry crew

It's a girl group of a very different kind - meet New Zealand's first all-female forestry team.



Source: NZ Herald

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Robotics Plus win Innovation and Growth awards

Robotics Plus, a world-leading robotics and automation company developing innovation to unlock new levels of productivity in some of the world’s most labour-intensive food and fibre value chains, has won an ANZLF Trans-Tasman Innovation and Growth Award.

The awards, which celebrate innovation, growth and impact of emerging businesses in Australia and New Zealand, were presented by Prime Minister Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern at a reception in Auckland last week.

Robotics Plus was founded in 2013 by Steve Saunders and Dr Alistair Scarfe with a simple goal in mind: to improving the quality, productivity and sustainability of the horticultural and other primary industry supply chains. The company’s R&D efforts focus on automation, vision, robotics and AI, to solve the growing challenges in the primary industry globally such as: labour shortages, sustainability for growers and producers, pollination gaps and yield security.

Robotics Plus CEO Dr Matt Glenn says the company is experiencing strong growth on the back of increasing demand for its world-first platform technologies. “Over the last 18 months Robotics Plus has launched two commercial products, entered the US and European markets, completed a US$10M Series A investment with Yamaha Motor Company and grown from a team of 12 to over 50. We also have a number of new products in the pipeline and expect our growth to continue at the same rate for the foreseeable future.

Robotics Plus launched its award winning robotic Āporo apple packers commercially in 2018. The technology, which identifies and safely places up to 120 apples per minute in display trays, is being marketed by Global Pac Technologies, a Jenkins Group (NZ/Australia) and Van Doren Sales (US) joint venture. Āporo apple packers are already operating in packhouses in New Zealand and USA, with a number of installations set for Europe.

Earlier this year, Robotics Plus launched its industry-changing Robotic Scaling Machines (RSM) which automates the accurate measurement of logs on trucks and trailers, with Mount Maunganui-based ISO Limited commissioning the world's first two automated logging truck scalers (details on this announcement and technology were reported on in an earlier issue of Offcuts and can be read here.

Robotics Plus has a range of technologies under development to address major issues in a range of industries, including the horticulture industry which is facing labour shortages and increasing consumer demand for fresh fruit, including: an autonomous agricultural vehicle, robotic pollinator, robotic harvesters, crop estimator, and a number of confidential projects.

Dr Glenn say, “It’s an exciting time for Robotics Plus. We’re rapidly adding to our world-class development team to prototype new ideas, validate new components and integrate these into our robotic systems. Our efforts are well supported by our investors, commercial partners, Governmental partners and collaborative research relationships.”

The inaugural ANZLF Trans-Tasman Innovation and Growth Awards was established by the Australia New Zealand Leadership Forum (ANZLF), in association with founding partner Accenture. ANZLF brings senior business and government leaders together to help Australia and New Zealand prosper in the global economy. Robotics Plus winners’ prize for the ANZLF Trans-Tasman Innovation and Growth Awards consists of $20,000AUD and an invitation to two funded winners’ summits to be held in 2020.
Photo: roboticsandautomationnews

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Trucking start-up wins race to run driverless

Starsky Robotics is now testing autonomous trucks that have no driver inside, the San Francisco Bay Area start-up announced. As of June 16, Starsky began operating truly driverless semi-trucks on the Florida turnpike.

It's a first in the industry. To be sure, there are plenty of autonomous trucks on the road. TuSimple has a fleet of more than 50 trucks making three to five revenue-generating routes per day in Arizona. Waymo resumed testing its self-driving trucks in Phoenix, after ending the tests two years ago. Embark's trucks drove more than 124,000 automated miles last year. And Tesla has been spotted testing some autonomous semis.

But these companies still have at least two people in the cabin for safety purposes — usually two truck drivers or a trucker and an engineer. Starksy's trucks have neither. Stefan Seltz-Axmacher, CEO and cofounder of Starksy Robotics, said his company achieved the industry feat by way of one key difference between Starsky and the rest of the autonomous-trucking cohort.

That is, the trucks do have a driver. It's just that he or she is remotely controlling the vehicle, and several others, as many as 500 miles away.



"Starsky isn't so much an autonomous R&D lab as much as we are keen in trying to solve a very distinct problem, and that problem is the persistent long-haul truck driver shortage in US trucking," Stefan Seltz-Axmacher, CEO and cofounder of Starksy Robotics, told Business Insider.

"Our focus is not so much building general autonomy in this really exciting pipe dream of artificial intelligence that can drive anywhere," Seltz-Axmacher said. "What we really, really care about is making it so that trucks can drive without a person in them."

The American Trucking Associations has said that the US has a shortage of 50,000 truck drivers and that the industry will need to recruit and train 898,000 new truckers by 2026. Trucking companies ranked the driver shortage as their top industry issue in 2017 and 2018.

Meanwhile, salaries for truck drivers are falling. A Business Insider analysis found that median wages had decreased by 21% on average since 1980, while in some areas they have fallen by as much as 50%. Seltz-Axmacher said, because of that, there are fewer folks coming into the industry to drive goods across the country.

"The problem in the trucking industry is trucking's commoditized, so you have a cap on the productivity of a driver, which means you can't pay them more than $60,000 a year," Seltz-Axmacher said. "$60,000 a year isn't enough money to get someone to spend a month at a time in a truck." But shifting trucking from a job on the road to an eight-hour office job could keep the trucking industry staffed, Seltz-Axmacher said. Some trucking executives see the autonomous feature as a way to cut labor costs. According to a Morgan Stanley report, implementing fully driverless trucks could save the industry US$70 billion per year. Productivity would be up 30% because driverless trucks would run 24/7.

Source: businessinsider.com, Starsky Robotics



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Log trade market outlook still uncertain

NZ forestry industry officials are still feeling gloomy about the log trade, ten weeks after a collapse in sales to China caused layoffs and left logging trucks lying idle. Volumes of log sales are still well down, but prices have inched up slightly, though to nothing like what they were.

Some foresters think the industry is through the worst, but for many, there is still a long way to go. China has long been New Zealand's largest log market by far. But a sudden crunch in early July left New Zealand logs stranded on Chinese wharves, with buyers further inland reluctant to take on new product.

That in turn led to exporters here sending fewer logs abroad, and forestry crews not cutting down trees in the first place. At the time, the price fall in China was estimated at 15 percent, but has since been revised to 25 percent.

Forest Owners Association chief executive David Rhodes said there had been a marginal recovery in prices since then. "(The market) does appear to have stabilised and has possibly slightly improved a bit, but clearly it is down from the highs of earlier in the year and the amount of harvesting has responded to that (fall)," Mr Rhodes said.

The problem in China was blamed on three things. One was economic nervousness and a lower currency stemming from China's trade war with the United States. Another was a glut in supplies of wood from Europe, as foresters there cut down trees in advance of the spread of a noxious pest through the continent.

A third reason stemmed from China's Belt and Road policy. That saw 30 trains leaving the city of Chongqing alone, each week, laden with goods for the German city of Duisberg. To make the journey more economic, those wagons were packed with logs for the return trip, which crowded out New Zealand sales. Mr Rhodes said New Zealand was still selling product to China, but the trade was proving difficult.

"Everybody's affected in different ways and it really depends on who you are harvesting for, how much capital you have got exposed, or whether you have just made recent investments, so every situation is different. Certainly, we have had a cut back, particularly among the smaller growers."

Mr Rhodes said that was because larger producers had made a decision to keep on working and to retaining staff, but smaller forest owners with only one chance to harvest their trees were likely to delay cutting down those trees until prices got better.

He said a survey of forest contractors found a mix of business as usual, reduced work hours and capped production. He added it was very hard to say where the industry went from here. But for now though, it appeared to have moved beyond the bottom of the market.

Source: rnz.co.nz

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NZ$7b windfall from new forestry rules expected

The move to new forestry carbon accounting rules will earn the NZ Government NZ$7 billion over the next 30 years. Off that, however, will come NZ$1.35 billion in revenue that would have been generated under the old rules and NZ$52 million in extra administration costs, leaving the Crown NZ$5.6 billion better off by the middle of the century.

The figures are contained in a regulatory impact assessment (RIA) released by the Ministry of Primary Industries. In March, the Government confirmed that it would shift to a system of averaging, meaning that instead of forest owners earning credits each year and facing a carbon liability at harvest time, the value of carbon credits would be averaged over the lifetime of the trees.

The increased revenue will come from increased carbon sequestration from extra forests expected to be planted as a result of the new rules. The RIA says the change is expected to lead to the sequestering of an extra 15.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, worth NZ$844 million, between 2021 and 2030; 41.8 million tonnes (NZ$2.35 billion) between 2031 and 2040, and 68.6 million tonnes (NZ$3.86 billion) between 2041 and 2040.

The value is based on the avoided cost of the country having to buy NZUs at $37.50, plus a multiplier of 1.5 for the cost of capital. The forecast could be affected, however, by “any inclusion of agriculture in greenhouse gas emissions reduction efforts”, which would increase incentives to convert farmland to forestry, the RIA says.

Source: Carbon News 2019

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Terra Drone expands into Australia

Tokyo-headquartered Terra Drone Corporation, the world’s largest industrial drone services provider, has finalized its expansion into the Australian market after completing an equity investment in Australian firm, C4D Intel Pty Ltd. As part of the deal, C4D Intel will immediately rebrand to Terra Drone Australia.

The move by Terra Drone is the latest of the company's investments into leading drone technology businesses across the globe and demonstrates the Japanese company’s commitment to the Australian market.

Founded in 2016, C4D Intel is an industry innovation leader that provides surveying, inspection, and 3D modeling services to a diverse client base across mining, oil and gas, power, and forestry industries in Western Australia.

As Terra Drone Australia, the company will be able to leverage the additional growth capital to expand its service offering to include unmanned airborne LiDAR, bring innovative Terra Group technologies to Australia, and expand its operations to the East coast of Australia.

The Australian drone service provider’s existing clients include mining heavy-weights such as Rio Tinto and Fortescue Metals Group, and large utilities such as ATCO Gas Australia and Synergy. The company specializes in large-scale unmanned aerial surveys, confined space infrastructure inspections, high-altitude inspections, bridge and pipeline inspections, and asset 3D modelling.

Source: directionsmag.com

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Australian Science & Innovation Grants open

Australia’s young agricultural innovators, scientists and researchers wanting to make a difference are invited to submit their innovative agricultural research project ideas for a chance to receive a share in up to AU$242,000 in grants. Applications close at 5pm AEST Friday 4 October 2019. The award recipients will be publicly presented as part of the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) Outlook 2020 conference in Canberra. For further details, see www.agriculture.gov.au/scienceawards.

Source: VAFI News Mill

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Can B.C.’s forestry industry recover?

B.C.’s forestry industry is not having a good year. Several pulp and sawmills in coastal, central and southern B.C. have seen curtailments and closures, putting thousands of workers out of a job and hundreds more looking at reduced shifts.

The past week has been particularly devastating. On Thursday, Tolko Industries announced its Kelowna mill would close indefinitely, affecting 127 employees. Ninety workers there had already lost their jobs after a shift reduction. That came after the Teal-Jones Group said on Tuesday it is halting all coastal harvesting operations, putting up to 800 workers at risk.

Union president for United Steelworkers Local 1-423 Pat McGregor says part of the reason for the closure in Kelowna is low lumber market prices across North America. “Log costs are high,” he explained further. “We’re being told 75 per cent of the cost for the employer is getting the wood from the bush into the mill.”

The Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development confirmed in a statement Friday that more than 4,000 workers across 27 communities have lost their jobs this year.

More >>.

Forests Minister Doug Donaldson announced on Tuesday morning in Prince George that the province is stepping in with $69 million to aid the thousands of laid off forestry workers in British Columbia's Interior who have been impacted by the recent mill closures and shift reductions. Read more.

Source: globalnews.ca, cbc

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... and one to end the week on ...seeing the light

Ok, this must be for the engineers out there. You're seated in front of a wall that you cannot see around. On your wall are three light switches. On the other side of the wall are three bulbs. Each switch operates one bulb, but you don't know which switch is mapped to which bulb. You can turn each switch on and off as many times as you wish, but you can go around the wall only once. How will you determine the correct mapping?


And the answer...







Turn a switch on for five minutes. Turn it off. Turn on another switch. Immediately go around the wall. The bulb which was turned on first and turned off will be warm. The second bulb and switch can be mapped as that one is lit. The third bulb and switch remain. You've solved the mapping. Easy huh?






And on that note, enjoy your weekend. Cheers.

Brent Apthorp
Editor, Friday Offcuts
Distinction Dunedin Hotel
6 Liverpool Street, Dunedin 9016, New Zealand
PO Box 904, Dunedin 9054, New Zealand
Tel: +64 (03) 470 1902, Mob: +64 21 227 5177, Fax: +64 (03) 470 1906
Web page: www.fridayoffcuts.com


This week's extended issue, along with back issues, can be viewed at www.fridayoffcuts.com

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