Friday Offcuts – 21 August 2020

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With most of the world in some form of lock-down right now and most countries still struggling to get through significant drops in their economic activity, it appears that the North American housing market has for now, bucked the trend. North Americans’ demand for homes was at a fever pitch before the pandemic, but now it appears that it’s returned in earnest. Housing starts in Canada climbed to a two-and-a-half year high in July and home construction in the US market is up over 23% over the same time last year.

Demand from both countries has come as a surprise to lumber producers. Lumber availability, particularly in the current environment, has been reduced and now with unprecedented demand, prices of lumber and building products as a consequence have skyrocketed. We’ve included coverage and links to more in-depth coverage of this unusual situation this week. It also appears that in Australia, that the introduction of the Federal Government’s HomeBuilder package has halted the decline in new home sales. The country’s major builders are reporting that new home sales have increased by more than 64 per cent over the preceding two months.

Those involved in forestry, wood products and timber construction will most likely have heard by now of the sudden and untimely passing of Gary Caulfield late last week. All who knew and worked with Gary over the years were amazed by his enthusiasm, his drive and his willingness to share his knowledge to help expand the use of mass timber in construction in this part of the world. Another industry leader, Bob Newman, a respected and devoted forester for almost 70 years and at the forefront of developing private forestry in Australia, also passed away peacefully in Canberra last week. On behalf of ourselves and our readers, we pass on our deepest sympathies to their families and to all those who have worked alongside Gary and Bob over the years.

To build on the regular tech updates supplied to wood harvesting and log transport operators through www.harvesttech.news, we’ve included this week several stories relating to wood harvesting operations and related research. In New Zealand, Forest Growers Research report that they’ve just started work on a new log tracking project. It’s aiming to replace paper log tags which will enable logs to be identified and tracked, with the log data having to be captured only once, from the time the log is made out in the forest to the time it’s delivered to the customer.

And from Australia, researchers have been investigating productivity losses, costs and the extent of stem breakage associated with two different types of harvesting systems. Results from the trials are included in the story below. We’ve also built in an update from Canada’s Forest Products R&D organisation, FPInnovations. Their automated- harvesting team have been working on several projects that are aimed at automating log loading, harvesting and forest inventory operations out in the forest. Enjoy this week’s read.



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Bright future for sustainable wood pellets

Earlier this year Natures Flame successfully completed a major capacity expansion of its wood pellet plant at Taupo in New Zealand, and over the next few weeks, as reported in last week’s issue, the company will start supplying pellets to Fonterra’s milk processing facility at nearby Te Awamuta. The first delivery to Fonterra will take place late in August and supply will then quickly ramp up to meet all of the fuel required by the facility’s recently upgraded boiler.

Norske Skog’s Regional President, Eric Luck, predicted a bright future for sustainable wood pellets and said he would like to see further capital expenditure at Taupo over the coming years to meet the growing demand, both in domestic New Zealand markets as well as key Asian export destinations.

“Renewable wood pellets are an important part of Norske Skog’s global strategy of creating green value through diversifying within fibre and energy. We have been working closely with Fonterra for several years to bring this particular contract to fruition and I expect it will be the first of many new opportunities and new long-term contracts for our business. We stand ready to invest in further increases to our production capacity as customer demand continues to grow and cost-effective fibre supplies can be secured.

“Current production at Taupo is 85,000 tonnes per annum of premium quality wood pellets, all from certified sustainably sourced fibre residues, up from around 30,000 tonnes per annum when Norske Skog acquired the facility back in 2015. We would certainly welcome any opportunities to further increase production, in particular where we can work with domestic offtake customers like Fonterra to reduce their carbon emissions, support domestic industries and grow local employment.

“Norske Skog has a long and proud history of working closely with domestic paper publishers in both New Zealand and Australia, for the benefit of all parties involved, and we hope our relationship with Fonterra can be the same,” Mr Luck said.

Rod Bender, Norske Skog’s Vice President - Renewables and Business Development, who has been directly responsible for Nature’s Flame operations since 2016 including the successful capacity upgrade project, shared his optimism. “We couldn’t be happier with how the wood pellets business in New Zealand continues to develop and grow, particularly given that while doing so we can also contribute in a very positive way to Norske Skog’s strategic ambitions, to the environment and to the local economy.

“The recent capital expenditure at Taupo enabled us to eliminate bottlenecks in the process and more than double the plant’s annual output to meet the new opportunity with Fonterra. It’s a great story on a range of fronts. We take renewable, plantation-based fibre residues from local sawmills in the form of sawdust and shavings, and using geothermal energy transform them into a certified, premium pellet fuel to meet the needs of our customers.

“Given the plant now uses 100% geothermal energy, supplied by Contact Energy, for all our thermal and electrical needs, we greatly reduce our own airborne emissions, support local jobs, and produce pellets that have the lowest embedded Carbon Footprint of any wood pellets worldwide. We then export any remaining production to what is a rapidly growing international market as well”.

“I congratulate our team at Nature’s Flame for their work on the capacity upgrade and for everything they are doing to deliver a renewable and sustainable product to our customers, both large and small, domestic and international”, Mr Bender said.

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Hyne Timber proposal to process export logs

Australian family owned Hyne Timber is looking for government support for an initiative that will see saw logs destined for export, processed at its Tumbarumba Mill, protecting hundreds of jobs locally and along the timber supply chain, helping the Australian economy recover from bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Following discussions with suppliers in Victoria and South Australia, Hyne Timber has confirmation that at least 431,000m3 of sustainably grown, plantation pine can be made available to the Mill over the next three years.

The CEO of Hyne Timber, Jon Kleinschmidt said they have already applied for an NSW grant and are now in discussions with the Federal Government to secure transport support to fast track these new supply channels. “Those logs are situated beyond the Tumbarumba viable supply zone, and to do this we need transport support for the extra 41 per cent of freight costs,” Mr Kleinschmidt said.

“We believe redirecting logs from export and into the Australian economy while retaining job security for hundreds of people is a compelling case for State and Federal Government support.

“If we can secure just under AU$29 million in support over three years on top of our own contribution of over AU$42 million, we can convert that into an estimated AU$173 million for the Australian economy. The jobs secured at the Tumbarumba Mill, and our sales and distribution staff in NSW alone equates to over $70 million in wages and salaries going back into the economy and vibrancy of our regional towns”.

“We have crunched the numbers and without support, this additional 431,000m3 of logs are too expensive to freight to Tumbarumba, as the additional costs cannot be passed onto our customers, who will be forced to use imported timber.

“The devastating bushfires have impacted 40 per cent of our long-term log supply. The situation is serious, and the community is rightfully concerned about the future. However, we have found a significant win-win solution if we can secure Government support.

Hyne Timber has applied through the NSW Government Bushfire Industry Recovery Package – Sector Development Grants for support and is now in discussion with the Australian Federal Government.

Click here for a virtual tour of the Tumbarumba Mill.

Source: Hyne Timber



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Vale Gary Caulfield

For those who haven't yet caught up with the devastating news, it is with great sadness that we inform you Gary Caulfield passed away late last week. His passing leaves a massive gap in our mass timber construction industry.

From our experience, he was one of the most enthusiastic, informed and motivating individuals our industry has ever had. As a pragmatic thought leader in our Australasian and wider industry, his energy was incomparable in making a difference for mass timber in construction.

At the time of his death he was project director with Steeltech Industries in Singapore and heavily involved in the construction of the world’s largest wooden buildings in Asia for Nanyang Technological University. Prior to that he was CEO for Xlam from 2016 to 2019 and an early member and chair of prefabNZ, he became a life member, and was on the board of directors at prefabAUS.

A statement released by prefabAUS this week said Mr Caulfield’s contribution to the Australasian Construction Sector over the past 16 years had been enormous. His tireless drive to reimagine design, procurement and construction always with a view of embracing offsite fabrication, improving safety, increasing productivity and reducing risk was respected and admired by all who had the privilege of working with him,’’ the statement said.

“Gary was a dedicated and well-respected director of prefabAUS for the past three years. His drive, passion and determination was insatiable and he was instrumental in propelling prefabAUS forward. His dedicated holistic approach to the prefab industry is a credit to the man he was".

“Gary was a remarkable man with a great sense of humour. He will be sorely missed by his immediate family, his prefabAUS family and the wider construction Industry".

Speaking for everyone whose lives he touched, we extend our deepest sympathies to his wife and son, his extended family, friends and those that have worked with and alongside Gary over the years.

If you are considering a way to celebrate, recognise or remember Gary the family would like you to consider making a donation to MATES in Construction NZ in his memory.

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North American housing starts break records

Canada’s housing market beat records in July as pent-up demand unleashed a 26% surge in sales, data has showed. The performance of the housing market during this pandemic recession has been a surprise to bears, says BMO senior economist Robert Kavcic. “In fact, this has shaped up to be a bizzaro-recession for the sector, where what is usually down is up, and vice versa,” he said in a note.

This housing market is going against the norm. Every recession during the postwar era has seen a meaningful decline in home construction, except this one, said Kavcic. In the pandemic recession home building has been one of the few sectors able to operate relatively undisturbed with housing starts beating expectations. Further commentary on this market can be read here.

In the US, we have the same story. Home-building activity has staged a significant turnaround from the coronavirus-related slowdown. U.S. home builders began construction on homes at a seasonally-adjusted annual rate of 1.496 million in July, up 22.6% from the previous month and 23.4% from a year ago, the U.S. Census Bureau reported this week. Further coverage on the US situation can be read here.

And with booming home buying demand, softwood lumber prices have just kept on climbing.

Sources: financialpost, marketwatch, woodbusiness

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HomeBuilder halts Australian home sales decline

The HomeBuilder package has halted the decline in new Australian home sales, reversing a downward trend in the three months to May, according to new data. The Housing Industry Association’s (HIA) latest data has revealed that in the two months since June, new home sales jumped by 64.4 per cent from the preceding two months.

HIA chief economist Tim Reardon said he is cautious about over-interpreting the data from only two months but reiterated that the data collected thus far has clearly indicated that the federal government’s HomeBuilder package will assist with protecting jobs in the sector in the second half of 2020 and into 2021.

However, he said additional sales data in August will be required before drawing concrete conclusions. “Housing data has been ricocheting through the COVID-19 period,” Mr Reardon said. “New home sales are highly reactive to changes in consumer confidence and collapsed in the three months to May 2020. The announcement of HomeBuilder, together with the easing of restrictions across most jurisdictions has seen confidence in the market improve.”

Since the introduction of HomeBuilder, sales in Western Australia have increased by 170.6 per cent, while sales in South Australia increased by 142.1 per cent, and Victoria posted a 39.5 per cent increase. Queensland increased by 42.4 per cent, while NSW increased by 9.6 per cent during this period.

Commenting on the data released by the HIA, federal Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar said the HomeBuilder scheme is achieving its objective of protecting tradies’ jobs and creating jobs in the construction industry during the COVID-19 crisis. “In the two months since June, Australia’s major builders have reported that new home sales have increased by more than 64 per cent over the preceding two months,” Mr Sukkar said.

The AU$688-million HomeBuilder scheme provides a AU$25,000 grant to owner-occupiers “substantially renovating” or building a new home from 4 June to 31 December 2020.

Source: mortgagebusiness.com.au



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Robotic forest harvesting being explored

FPInnovations, Canada, is moving full speed ahead with its automated-harvesting project to usher in a new era of forestry machinery with an eye to one day operating fully autonomous machines.

Much of the forestry equipment in use dates from designs that originated in the 70s, with improvements made along the way. In an industry-leading move, the automated-harvesting team is developing the brains behind a new generation of machines destined for forest operations.

“No one has been able to design a suitable machine that can work autonomously in a hostile forest environment,” says Francis Charette, digitalization manager at FPInnovations. “The terrain is unpredictable, there are many physical obstacles in the way, and the worksites are remote.

The first step is basic automation and if we’re successful, and we have every reason to be, we’ll move on to more highly automated machines. FPInnovations and its partners want to be one of the first in the world to develop an algorithm capable of telling a machine what tasks to do in a forest environment.”

FPInnovations recently acquired two new machines on which to develop its robotic skills.

Log Loader

The mechanical log loader allows the automated-harvesting team to work on automating the crane function before scaling up to bigger machinery. From FPInnovations’ Pointe-Claire facility, engineers and programmers are working on getting the loader to detect logs on the ground while avoiding obstacles such as rocks, trees or even people nearby. To do that, sensors and hardware have been added to the machine and programmers are developing algorithms that will decipher the information, then perform a specific task.

Unmanned Ground Vehicle (UGV)

This low-to-the-ground rugged robotic vehicle allows researchers to continue testing its sensing system to advance two automated-harvesting project goals: autonomous navigation and real-time forest inventory. For the latter, the UGV will eventually be sent into the forest, much like a scout, to send back data on tree species, wood volume, and other forest inventory information before sending out larger machines to carry out the desired work. The team plans to have a status update of their work on automating the new equipment in the fall.

Industry Partnerships

FPInnovations has partnered with the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s (NSERC) Canadian Robotics Network and Université Laval’s FORAC research consortium to increase the pace of its research, as well as to gain access to a wider network of expertise.

Forestry 4.0

The automated-harvesting project is part of FPInnovations’ larger Forestry 4.0 projects to bring automation to the forest industry. The overall goal is to increase the Canadian forest industry’s competitiveness by automating operations that are risky and have difficulty retaining workers. The program is inspired by the concept of Industry 4.0, which is seen as the next Industrial Revolution.

For more information on FPInnovations’ automated-harvesting project, contact francis.charette@fpinnovations.ca>.

Source: FPInnovations
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Automated log tagging project underway

An exciting new log tracking project for New Zealand's Forest Growers Research is getting underway within the Automation and Robotics programme, led by Dr Glen Murphy. The project, which is based on Swedish technology, aims to replace paper log tags with a unique punch code that will enable log identification and tracking from the time log is made in the forest to the time it is delivered to the customer.

The branding will eliminate the cost of branding logs with paint, and the cost of attaching log tags to export logs. It will also mean log measurement and other attribute data will be captured only once, eliminating the duplication that currently occurs in the forest-to-customer supply chain.

New Zealand technology companies are partnering with a Swedish company to further develop and commercialise the technology here in New Zealand. Glen Murphy is also putting together a project team which includes forestry companies, wood processors and port logistics companies, all of whom could adopt the new technology.

The plan is to have built an ‘alpha’ prototype log marker suitable for a NZ processor head and “alpha” prototype tag readers built by June 2021. This will be followed by testing of the alpha prototypes, and development of beta prototypes up to the end of 2022. Field demonstrations, commercialisation and deployment of the technology will then begin, with a project completion date before the end of 2025.

Contact: Keith Raymond keith.raymond@fgr.nz for more information about the work of the FGR Automation and Robotics programme.

Source: Forest Growers Newsletter



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NZ forestry company appeals fine

A forestry company that claimed it had been unfairly singled out for its contribution to flood damage near Gisborne in 2018 storms has appealed a NZ$124,700 fine. DNS Forest Products 2009 Ltd was one of 10 companies prosecuted by Gisborne District Council following destruction wrought by tonnes of forestry waste that cascaded down valleys to the north of Gisborne in two storms in June 2018.

Two other companies had been dealt with for their offending. Juken New Zealand was fined $152,000 late last year. Aratu, formerly known as Hikurangi Forest Farms, was fined $379,000 in January. DNS pleaded guilty 10 days before it was to stand trial in February. Following that, the council withdrew charges against its alleged co-offenders, A and R Logging and Logic Forest Solutions.

The company held resource consent to harvest 398 hectares of pine trees from Makiri Forest, about 38 kilometres north of Gisborne in the headwaters of the Waihora Valley. DNS engaged A and R Logging to harvest the wood and build skid sites and roads between them. It hired Logic to oversee and audit the work and report back to DNS, which marketed and sold the logs.

Relationships between DNS and the parties deteriorated and in January 2018 A and R and Logic quit the site. When the storms hit five months later, they brought down massive amounts of forest waste onto neighbouring properties which blocked waterways, damaged roads and covered the coast in debris. Council investigations found that numerous failings in the Makiri Forest operation had led to forest waste washing down the valley.

More >>

Source & photo: stuff

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Two different harvesting systems compared

Damage to trees and logs during harvest and transportation can result in significant losses of wood volume and value. To prevent this, researchers are investigating productivity losses, costs and the extent of stem breakage associated with two different types of harvest system machinery.

The study was conducted by the University of the Sunshine Coast Forest Research Institute and focused on clear-felling operations in a 29-year-old Pinus radiata plantation in Eastern Victoria. The team compared the most commonly used two-machine harvester/forwarder system with the less prevalent three-machine feller-buncher/processor/forwarder system.

The goal was to determine whether using the three-machine system would result in reduced stem breakage during felling and equivalent or improved productivity levels and running costs, when compared to the more familiar two-machine system.

Overall, the three-machine system was observed to be more productive. It resulted in considerably less stem breakage during felling than its two-machine counterpart, with just two broken stems compared to 21. However, the three-machine system was around 41 per cent more expensive to run, based on cost per cubic metre of logs delivered to roadside.

In drawing their conclusions, the researchers took into consideration two important factors. First, broken stem sections are often used for the creation of chip logs. Second, losses of saw log volume due to stem breakage are unlikely. Financial losses resulting from the extra breakage experienced when using a two-machine system were therefore considered insignificant when compared to the total extra cost of logs delivered to roadside when using the three-machine system.

The research suggests forest growers can enjoy better outcomes at harvest by using a two-machine harvester/forwarder system.

Source: tandfonline, R&D Works, July 2020

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VicForests ends bid for FSC tick

Victoria’s state logging agency has abandoned its latest attempt to gain sustainability certification from the Forest Stewardship Council Australia, saying it was concerned it would not be fairly assessed because three of the council’s directors are involved in forest activism.

In an online statement, VicForests said it had decided to postpone its attempt to gain certification by the end of 2020, citing concerns over an ongoing Federal Court case and some directors of the council, the local branch of an international sustainability initiative.

“Three directors of FSC Australia ... are leading public activism and advocacy, calling for the complete cessation of native forestry and actively seeking to discredit VicForests," the statement said. Pandemic restrictions on auditors working in the field, and challenges arising from last summer’s bushfires also prompted the decision, it said.

VicForests is appealing a Federal Court ruling in May that found it had unlawfully logged areas of critically endangered Leadbeater's possum habitat. The Federal Court decision prompted hardware giant Bunnings to end its timber supply contract with Victoria's logging agency. Another major customer, Officeworks, has said that by the end of the year all timber for its paper products will come from either FSC-accredited sources or recycled products.

More >>.

Source: brisbanetimes



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Rebuilding the WA softwood plantation estate

- The McGowan Government is inviting private sector investment to help rebuild the Western Australian softwood plantation estate.

- Problem and Opportunity Statements seek innovative industry solutions under the Government’s Market-led Proposal initiative.

- The McGowan Government has invested AU$23 million expanding the State’s pine plantation estate.


Forestry Minister Dave Kelly has invited private sector proposals to expand Western Australia’s softwood estate and safeguard the future of the State’s plantation industry, as part of the McGowan Government’s Market-led Proposal (MLP) initiative.

The Forest Products Commission currently manages approximately 78,000 hectares of softwood plantations. While the McGowan Government has invested AU$23 million in expanding the estate since 2017, previous years of neglect mean that without significant investment, the estate will diminish to 40,000 hectares within 20 years.

Private sector investment is being sought, through an advertised Problem and Opportunity Statements process, to support a 50,000-hectare expansion which will result in more than 60 million trees being planted over a period of up to 10 years.

The Problem and Opportunity Statements process is a new initiative under the McGowan Government’s Market-led Proposals policy, harnessing innovative ideas from the private sector that stimulate the economy and create jobs for Western Australians.

For more information, click here.

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Survey on Tasmania’s forestry industry

The Northern Tasmania Regional Forestry Hub (Hub) has commissioned researchers at The University of Melbourne to assess how factors relating to industry culture, skills and training impact the forest growing and forest processing sectors within the Hub.

The Hub was established in 2019 by the Tasmanian Forests and Forest Products Network (TFFPN) and is funded by the Commonwealth Government as part of the National Forest Industries Plan. The Hub works closely with industry and government to drive the objectives outlined in the Commonwealth Government’s Growing a Better Australia, a billion trees for jobs and growth.

What they'd like you to do?

If you wish to participate in this research, we would like you to complete an on-line survey. In the survey we ask about your views on the current state of culture, skills and training within the sector, how these factors impact your activities, and what factors you think limit or promote growth within the sector. The survey should take about 10 minutes to complete.

Results from the survey will contribute to an assessment report that will assist the Commonwealth to develop policies regarding industry development opportunities, infrastructure needs, additional processing potential and employment opportunities for the forest industries within the Hub region.

Click this link Tasmania forestry survey to take you to the survey. More information about the research can be found by following the survey link.

Please contact Dr Nerida Anderson ( neridama@unimelb.edu.au) or Professor Rod Keenan ( rkeenan@unimelb.edu.au) if you would like more information about the research.

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... and one to end the week on ... Aussie test - part 2

For all you Aussies out there, here is the remainder of the test that we started last week. For those who missed last week's test, you can view it by going onto the "Back Issues" section of the website. Ya should rip through it in two secs flat. And now for the extra's.

15. When you go to a bring- your-own-meat barbie can you eat other people's meat or are you only allowed to eat your own?

16. What purple root vegetable beginning with the letter 'b' is required by law to be included in a hamburger with the lot?

17. Do you own or have you ever owned a lawn mower, a pair of thongs,an Esky or Ugg boots?

18. Is it possible to 'prang a car' while doing 'circle work'?

19. Who would you like to crack on to?

20. Who is the most Australian: Kevin 'Bloody' Wilson, John 'True Blue' Williamson, Kylie Minogue or Warnie?

21. Is there someone you are only mates with because they own a trailer or have a pool?

22. What does "sinkin piss at a mates joint" and "getten para" mean?

23. How far would you wear your mockies?
Inside only?
Back yard only?
To the letter box?
To the milk bar for a packed of winni blues?
To the movies?
To shoppo? (large shopping centre)
To the pub?

So, how did ya go?



And one more sent in by a reader this week.









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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