Friday Offcuts 19 March 2021
We provide this week another update on the ongoing and protracted log export spat that began late last year between China and Australia. China’s banned softwood log imports from all Australian States (with the exceptions being the Northern Territory and ACT where no log exports occur). China typically takes more than 90 percent of Australian log exports and at stake is a A$600 million four-million-tonne per annum log trade. The worst affected area is the Green Triangle region. Log yards still remain empty, jobs have already been lost, equipment is lying idle and at this stage, there appears still to be no end in sight to the dispute. China right now isn’t budging, even though the industry has set in place a two-stage fumigation process to allay the bark beetle concerns.
This week we’ve also included another look into the implications of Russia’s announcement to ban exports of untreated or roughly processed wood. As we’ve reported in earlier issues, the plan will apply to softwood logs and might start to take effect later this year. The implications with China, as the main consumer of Russian roundwood (7.5 million m3 imported last year) will of course be felt in this part of the world with New Zealand still being the largest log supplier into China. The recent Indufor report touches on; pricing, some of the regulatory hurdles that still exist to increase log supplies, the increasing move from importing logs to more value-added sawn-wood products and increasing sawn-wood investments that are being seen in Russia, particularly between European producers and Russian partners.
And finally, to address some of the concerns and uninformed commentary often being made about fire seasons getting longer and more and larger vegetation wildfires likely to become more common in the future, several well- known forest fire specialists decided (it was one way that they were able to keep busy during the first major lockdown last year) to look further into the issue. Their research looked into the impacts of climate over the past four to five decades. They assessed past and present fire danger levels in New Zealand to see what changes, if any, had occurred. Their paper, research results and data collected over some 50 years or so from 15 weather stations are contained in the lead story below. And on that note, enjoy this week’s read.
This week we have for you:
The impact of climate on fire danger levelsDuring the COVID 19 shut down in March 2020 some well-known well - known and respected forestry, remote sensing and fire and forest fire specialists in New Zealand set themselves a challenge to research the question of whether the changes in climate over the past four to five decades has had an impact on the fuel availability to burn in New Zealand.
One of the lead authors, Murray Dudfield, held some concerns given some uninformed commentary and public statements that were being made that the fire seasons are getting longer and there will be more and bigger vegetation wildfires in the future.
Many weather stations were involved with this research project and included more than 50 years of data. Once the picture started to develop in early April, Murray engaged with Grant Pearce and Geoff Cameron to share the development of this story. Both agreed to be co-authors for the paper.
Attached is the final paper which looks into the question of ‘have changes in weather conditions impacted on the day-to-day management of fires in the New Zealand forest and rural landscape”?
The aim of the research and resulting paper was to look at the impacts of climate over the past four to five decades and to use an assessment of past and present fire danger levels in New Zealand to assess what changes, if any, have occurred. The paper was published mid-February 2021 in the quarterly NZ Institute of Forestry Journal.
Also attached is a copy of the data tables for each of the 15 weather stations used in this research project.
Source: Murray Dudfield
Australian log exports face protracted log-jamAustralia is bracing for a drawn-out disruption to its A$1.6 billion annual timber trade with China after requests to Beijing's customs officials to resume the log exports were ignored, two sources told Reuters. The four- million-tonne log timber trade with China has been largely suspended since late last year after Beijing said it had found pests in shipments coming from several Australian ports. Woodchips, however, continue to be exported to China.
Australian timber is one of several commodities and products, including coal, barley, seafood and wine, subject to either trade bans or other restrictions by Beijing amid souring relations between the trade partners.
Australia's Department of Agriculture did not receive a response after providing evidence to China's General Administration of Customs that the shipments were sprayed with pesticides, said the sources, who have direct knowledge of the approaches but declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.
The cold shoulder from China suggests a potentially protracted period of strain for two-way trade, given the frosty relations between Canberra and Beijing is now ensnaring bureaucrats who would usually stay engaged during a temporary disagreement, they said.
"At least hundreds of workers nationally have already lost work as a result of forest thinning, harvesting and haulage, and port operations being deferred," Victor Violante, deputy chief executive of the Australian Forest Products Association (AFPA), told Reuters. "If the trade suspension continues for months or even years, it will severely impact the whole supply chain including sawmills, and with it, thousands more jobs."
China typically takes more than 90% of Australian log exports, mainly consisting of cheaper "pulp" logs that most local mills aren't set up to process. While some logs can be turned into woodchips and exported - a category of timber not subject to Chinese restrictions - most pulp logs are either piling up or being left in the ground.
"It's virtually a ghost town in the log yards," said Steve Garner, who chairs the business-focussed Committee for Portland, a town in Victoria state heavily reliant on its deep-water port which exports logs to China. There have been hundreds of jobs that have been put on hold."
Australia exports logs to China worth just over A$600 million and woodchips worth almost A$980 million annually, according to 2018-19 trade figures. Portland timber businesses told Reuters that India was the obvious market to replace China, although redirecting such large quantities would be a long-term process.
David Quill, from the South Australian Timber Processors Association, said the issue was forcing Australia to seriously consider building up its own processing capacity. "The positive effect, if there's been any, is that there is now more material available for manufacturing industries in Australia," said Quill.
Source: Nasdaq, Reuters
Why NZ’s wood processors are under stressThe closure of Whakatāne Mill has put the ailing wood processing industry in New Zealand back in the headlines, with calls for urgent steps to avoid more closures.
"This is a violation of our responsibility to future generations," says David Turner, the executive director of Sequal, a wood processing factory in Kawerau that employs 80 people. He predicts more mills with specific business and product issues will close, "but the real issues are going to start to emerge in another five years or so".
Turner explains to The Detail why the wood processing industry is under stress and why New Zealand continues to send so many raw logs to China without turning them into something more valuable. Forestry is our third biggest export, according to the Ministry for Primary Industries, earning more than NZ$6.7 billion a year.
Most of those exports are logs and between 70 and 80 percent of them go to China. Since 2008 log shipments to China have surged from 1 million tonnes a year to about 20 million this year. But at the same time, our value-add wood exports have stagnated. Turner says the Government has a "delusional idea that we'll be able to attract foreign capital because the fundamental issue is lack of capital.
"There's no lack of capital, there's a lack of environment to make that capital efficient and successful." Unlike the Whakatāne Mill, Turner's Sequal plant just 33 kilometres away is "definitely not in distress. What I'd say is that there should be 10 businesses like Sequal in New Zealand, not just one."
John Deere realigning its forestry technologyThe advancement of forestry equipment has typically focused on generating more powerful machines. Now, John Deere has launched a new tech-driven initiative that will marry strength with intelligence.
Through the Precision Forestry initiative, Deere will reorganize its technology portfolio and increase its efforts in delivering solutions designed to increase efficiency and productivity in the woods.
“It’s not about getting bigger and stronger in the woods all the time,” said Graham Hinch, Deere’s sales and marketing director for the western hemisphere. “It’s about delivering more intelligent, connected machines that address our customers’ needs.”
The forestry tech initiative aligns with Deere’s overarching Smart Industrial operating model. The operating model, announced last summer, aims to accelerate its success via the integration of smart technology innovation with its legacy of manufacturing.
Precision Forestry is a more descriptive term for what customers can expect from the John Deere technology suite, including real-time, map-based production planning and tracking capabilities, along with new and evolving operator assistance capabilities.
“With technology, we believe that loggers need to embrace working smarter, not harder. The logging industry is built on hard work – it’s part of the industry’s DNA,” said Matthew Flood, product marketing manager for skidders and the Precision Forestry initiative at John Deere.
“We want to complement that work ethic with machine intelligence and system-level integration, delivering the tools loggers need to increase efficiency and performance in the woods.”
Note: Matt Flood will be presenting to local harvesting contractors on some of these new JD Smart Technologies as part of the upcoming HarvestTECH 2021 event running in Rotorua, New Zealand on 13-14 April.
A game changer
Flood explained technology is a game changer for the forestry industry. While forestry machines have become more powerful, there remains a 40 per cent variation in productivity on Deere’s machines.
“That variation comes specifically from the operator sitting in the seat. It comes from their experience level and the efficiency they have to offer on that machine,” Flood said. “We need to start to focus on having our machines easier to operate, and really allow an inexperienced operator to get the same productivity out of that machine as an expert operator.”
Machines will evolve to become smarter, and capable of adapting to various situations, regardless of who is seated in the cab. “We look to have machines that provide feedback and guide operators. Potentially, someday, they can prevent operators from making a poor decision,” Flood said.
As well, Precision Forestry will see an era where more accurate data can be harvested from machines. “As we have this accurate information and data, we can look at our machines as a system, rather than just individual machines and individual machine efficiencies,” Flood said.
Photo: Tracked Harvester 959MH Harvesting Heads FL100
NZ paper & packaging mill closure confirmedWhakatāne Mill Ltd (WML) confirmed in a statement on Tuesday that the mill will cease production on June 21 and close for good on June 30. A proposal to close the facility was announced last month. After consultation with staff, no viable alternative or buyer for the business had been found and the decision was made to close the mill.
The mill employs more than 210 people and has produced paper and packaging products for more than 80 years. All staff would be made redundant, with most completing their roles by the end of June. A small group would be retained to complete the shutdown and decommissioning work.
“Our focus at this time is caring for our staff, and we will continue to work with union representatives and other agencies to support our people through the redundancy process,” WML general manager Juha Verajankorva said.
First Union and E tū, which represent mill workers, said although the closure would have a significant impact on the community, there was still a chance for a new buyer to repurpose the existing plant. “There are many options for refitting the existing assets to continue manufacturing pulp and paper products,” First Union transport, logistics and finance secretary Jared Abbott said.
E tū spokesman Raymond Wheeler said the announcement of the closure was “devastating” for local industry, including businesses such as scaffolding and engineering. Raymond said job opportunities in the area were limited, and he emphasised the urgency around the Government’s work on an industry transformation plan for the forestry and wood processing sector, if local manufacturing were to survive.
Verajankorva said a number of options were being explored for the plant and the site, but no decisions had been made. “We have explored several options in terms of considering how we might have been able to continue operations, but the economic reality of our position must be faced.” The decision by parent company SIG Combibloc AG (SIG) to source its liquid paperboard from a lower-cost provider had meant the company would lose its major customer, accounting for 80 per cent of its sales.
“This loss of customer, combined with the serious challenges that the operation has faced for some time, means that the operations are no longer viable,” he said. “It’s very tough, but SIG’s decision is understandable, given the circumstances and the reality that we cannot compete with suppliers elsewhere. We accept that further investment in the business is just not feasible.”
Largest ever bushfire recovery programmeThe past 12 months have seen Forestry Corporation of NSW implement a AU$46 million bushfire recovery program to repair NSW State forests, the largest in the organisation’s history. Locally, this has seen a total of $1.7 million invested to rebuild Batemans Bay State forest roads and bridges lost in the 2019-20 bushfire season.
The program has already seen two bridges and two concreted culverts replaced, and a program of work implemented to make the forests again safe to visitors, said Forestry Corporation’s Protection Supervisor, Julian Armstrong. “The last 12 months have been challenging for the forestry industry and communities of the south coast, but we are pleased to be rebuilding forest infrastructure through the support of the NSW government,” Mr Armstrong said.
This work is part of the AU$46 million equity injection and is part of the larger NSW Government AU$100 million COVID stimulus package, designed to directly stimulate economies in regional NSW.
This equity injection has seen investment to support the forestry industry and support recovering regional communities, said Forestry Corporation Acting CEO Anshul Chaudhary. “The work happening across the south coast is a great example of how government and industry are working together to help regional communities recover from the 2019-20 bushfire season.
“Over the last 12 months, the equity injection has seen Forestry Corporation repair priority damaged public infrastructure, expand its Grafton and Blowering nurseries and start replanting bushfire-affected State forests.”
Source: Forestry Corporation of NSW
China and Finland to find alternative wood suppliesRussia has been one of the largest roundwood traders globally for many years by exporting roughly 15-20 million m3 per year between 2010-2020. The main importers of the Russian roundwood are traditionally China and Finland, importing around 90% of the total Russian export volumes.
Based on the announcement of President Vladimir Putin last year, instructing the country’s government to ban the export of untreated or roughly processed wood, the roundwood exports might be heavily limited from next year on, should the legislation take force as proposed.
According to the plans, the ban will apply to softwood logs and pulpwood, as well as possibly birch veneer logs. The final decision on assortments and species will be done later. Green sawn wood can also be part of the ban. Besides, the Government considers imposing limitations on the export of wood chips and some of the wood-based panels, such as OSB and particleboard.
These limitations might be in force already during this year. The consequences of the export limitations would impact the interests of trading partners and force them to find either alternative sources for the commodities or to buy more value-added products from Russia.
The implications of the roundwood export ban on the Russian forest industry were recently discussed here.
China is the main consumer of Russian roundwood. In 2020, the total imports from Russia accounted for about 7.5 million m3 of wood consisting mainly of high-quality softwood and hardwood logs. The import volumes are to be replaced, and among the main countermeasures discussed are increasing supply from other countries and shifting the exports towards more value-added sawn-wood products.
New Zealand and Europe as options
New Zealand is the largest roundwood supplier in China and the import volumes from there can be increased after the Russian export ban takes place. However, the increased volumes will highly depend on roundwood prices, which should be sufficiently attractive to access some of the higher-cost supplies. The prices are increasing in China and Russia’s export ban may bring them up further. The higher prices on roundwood will result in other suppliers coming to the market, too.
Recently, New Zealand has signed an upgrade to the China free trade agreement, offering some New Zealand value-added products a reduction in tariffs. Although the tariffs on logs (and sawn-wood) were already at zero levels, faster access to Chinese markets can be used in improving/extending partnerships in the log supply. However, the overall impact on increasing imports will be minor.
Besides, the existence of major regulatory barriers could adversely affect China’s ability to significantly increase the log supply from New Zealand. Importers still have to pay the VAT on timber. Getting radiata pine approved in the construction end-uses in China might be an uplift but this issue is still under development.
Forico launches Reconciliation Action PlanTasmania’s largest plantation forest manager, Forico, has reaffirmed its commitment to fostering respect and transparent engagement with Tasmania’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities with the launch of its 2021-2022 Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP).
Developed in consultation with Reconciliation Tasmania, Forico’s Reflect RAP seeks to build, encourage and foster strong positive relationships and trust between Forico and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities throughout Tasmania.
Forico’s Chief Executive, Bryan Hayes said by committing to a RAP, Forico seeks to change its intentions into actions. “Our reconciliation vision is a future where cultural traditions and land management practices of Tasmania’s First Peoples are integrated into the ongoing custodianship of our natural resources,” Mr Hayes said.
Forico’s Sustainability Manager, Simon Cook, who is leading the RAP process said the organisation had identified several important cultural locations within the Forico managed forests and is looking to engage with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to assist in their long-term management.
“At these sites we wish to engage proactively with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to advance mutually beneficial and meaningful opportunities,” Mr Cook said. “By developing our Reflect RAP, we genuinely believe we can develop and deliver opportunities with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities through working collaboratively to create lasting community benefit.
“We also hope to create greater awareness within our staff of the importance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, to improve understanding and strengthen relationships with stakeholders. To celebrate the launch of the RAP, Forico has commissioned a local artist to produce a unique piece of artwork that symbolises the organisation’s connection with the land.
“This artwork will sit proudly in the entrance to our head office and serve as a constant reminder of our commitment to furthering our reconciliation vision and building stronger relationships with Tasmania’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island communities,” Mr Hayes said.
Researcher and engineer nominated for global awardsUniversity of Tasmania PhD researcher Michelle Balasso and Michael Darveniza, a process engineer at Visy in Tumut, have both been nominated for the Blue Sky Young Researchers Innovation Award.
The awards are held every two years and recognise excellence in forest industry research from around the world. Entries are judged by an international panel of researchers, with the three best entrants given the opportunity to present their research to industry leaders at the International Council of Forests and Paper Association’s (ICFPA) CEO Global Roundtable scheduled to be held virtually later this year.
Michelle is a PhD researcher in the ARC Training Centre for Forest Value at the University of Tasmania and her Blue Sky Award nomination is for research into how plantation wood can be utilised to develop new or higher value product streams. Michael joined Visy in 2018 as Graduate Chemical Engineer. His Blue Sky Award nomination is for his research into effective utilisation of bushfire affected wood for kraft pulping and papermaking.
The Chief Executive of AFPA Ross Hampton said, “Michelle’s work is a clear example of the value of research and development to Australia’s forest products industry and the many jobs it supports.” The Director of the ARC Training Centre for Forest Value, Assoc. Prof. Julianne O’Reilly-Wapstra said “Michelle’s research explores options for diversifying the products from plantations and is an excellent example of high-quality, industry-focused research.”
The Executive General Manager of Visy Pulp and Paper Jean-Yves Nouaze said the forest industry came together in the aftermath of the fires in a concerted effort to maximise fibre recovery efforts. “Visy has been at the forefront of the effort, identifying early the need to utilise as much fire affected wood as possible.
Congratulations to Michael, and the team at Visy Tumut, for this recognition of the research and work. It is fabulous to see talent like Michael, who started with us at Visy as a graduate, empowered to take on real life industry challenges… and to succeed.”
Study looks at effects of wildfire smokeTens of millions of Americans experienced at least a day last year shrouded in wildfire smoke. Entire cities were blanketed, in some cases for weeks, as unprecedented wildfires tore across the Western U.S., causing increases in hospitalizations for respiratory emergencies and concerns about people's longer-term health. A new study finds those concerns are well founded.
Researchers with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego say that the tiny particles released in wildfire smoke are up to 10 times more harmful to humans than particles released from other sources, such as car exhaust. The research, published in the journal Nature Communications, paints a worrisome picture for Americans living on a fire-prone continent (as well as other countries), especially as climate change amplifies fire risk worldwide.
"[Air pollution] has been decreasing in some regions of the U.S.," says Rosana Aguilera, a postdoctoral scholar and one of the study's co-authors. "This is not the case in wildfire-prone areas." Aguilera and co-author Tom Corringham looked at hospital admissions data over 14 years in Southern California and compared that to spikes in air pollution during strong wind events. They found that pollutants from wildfire smoke caused up to a 10% increase in hospital admissions.
"We're pretty aware of the physical costs of wildfire, in terms of firefighting costs and damage to property," Corringham says, referencing the more than US$10 billion lost in damages and efforts to corral California's fires last season. "But there's been a lot of work that has shown that the health impacts due to wildfire smoke are on the same order of magnitude, or possibly even greater, than the direct physical cost."
The findings are particularly concerning, he says, given the increase in wildfire activity that California and other states have experienced in recent years, and the expectation that wildfires will become more intense and frequent as the climate warms.
Emissions pricing reaches significant milestoneA significant milestone in New Zealand’s transition to a low carbon future was reached on Wednesday with the first auction of emissions allowances, said the Minister for Climate Change, James Shaw.
“One of the most significant steps our Government has taken to address the climate emergency was to reform New Zealand’s Emissions Trading Scheme. Having inherited a scheme that was failing to cut emissions, we turned the ETS one of the most effective tools New Zealand has for reducing climate-polluting emissions.
“Allocating a portion of each year’s allowances via auction was key part of these reforms. Auctioning is a simple, transparent and credible process that will help to incentivise New Zealand’s biggest polluters to invest in the transition to a clean, climate-friendly economy.” James Shaw said.
Completed on Wednesday morning, 40 participants took part in the auction. A total of 4.75 million New Zealand units were sold at a price of $36.00 per unit.
Auctioning is a way of allocating units under the ETS and was introduced as part of the changes the Government made to the scheme last year. The process works by making a proportion of units (consistent with the cap on the ETS) available for purchase through a single round of auctioning, during which bidders submit a single bid at their preferred price.
“Auctioning will help to achieve that by translating the targets we have put in place into a price signal that drives much-needed investment into low carbon technologies,” James Shaw said.
New Zealand’s Emissions Trading Scheme requires participants to surrender emission units to the government to cover the pollution for which they are liable. Among the changes made to the scheme last year was the introduction of a cap on the total emissions allowed within the ETS.
Further information A brief explanation of how the auctioning process works is attached for your information.
- Auctioning is a way of allocating units under the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). It has been introduced as part of the ETS reforms that were passed by Parliament last year.
- The number of units sold at each auction will be consistent with NZ’s emissions budget and the number of free allowances that have been allocated.
- Units are sold to emitters through a single round, sealed bid, uniformly priced auction. Bidders submit a single bid at their preferred price.
- All bids are then ranked in order from highest to lowest price and the clearing price for the auction is the lowest successful bid price. All bidders then pay this clearing price regardless of what price was on their original bid.
- Over the course of 2021, a total of 19 million New Zealand Units will be auctioned through the NZ ETS. The availability of these units will be spread evenly across the four scheduled auctions for 2021.
NZ ETS auctions are being jointly operated by NZX and EEX - the European Energy Exchange. The first auction kicked-off on Wednesday morning at 9am and closed at midday.
Resumption of harvesting on NSW South Coast welcomedThe Australian Forest Products Association (AFPA) says hundreds of NSW timber industry workers will welcome the resumption of hardwood timber harvesting operations on the South Coast.
AFPA CEO Mr Ross Hampton said hardwood timber mills across NSW have been starved of log deliveries for more than a year since the Black Summer bushfires and are at crisis point. “There are hundreds of forestry-dependent jobs at stake on the South Coast if supply to timber mills does not urgently resume, so the news that modest timber harvesting levels have resumed will provide considerable relief across regional NSW,” Mr Hampton said.
“Forestry Corporation of NSW has done the right thing and taken on board the EPA advice to develop additional environmental safeguards that strike a balance on the environment and the need to resume supply to industry. The science shows that it is not an ‘either-or’ proposition – native forests managed sustainably for timber production and recreation deliver the same or better environmental outcomes as NSW’s millions of hectares of National Parks and reserves”.
“I commend Forestry Corporation for taking an evidence-based approach and recognising the critical situation mills are facing. There are timber mills that are on the verge of running out of logs. Without this relief these mills face the grim prospect of having to stand down workers and cease production at a time of high demand of appearance-grade timber products.”
We told you – the robots are comingThe Beijing-based startup Geekplus has just been recognised by Fast Company as one of the Most Innovative Companies in Robotics in 2021. Geekplus is part of a wave of Chinese logistics companies hurrying to supply AI and robotics to retailers that are under pressure to add speed and capacity to their product fulfilment.
Geekplus makes robots that scurry around warehouse floors picking products for delivery. It supplies fleets of these robots, and their software brains, on a “service” basis. The five-year-old company got a new $200 million in funding in early 2020, bringing its total raised to almost $390 million.
At the time of the investment Geekplus said it had more than 10,000 robots deployed worldwide, spread across 300 customers and projects in 20 countries.
Buy and Sell
... and one to end the week on ... drones for St Patricks
And in this clip posted yesterday, 500 drones light up Dublin skies in an ‘Orchestra of Light’, a spectacular show with a message of hope, wishing people everywhere a Happy #StPatricksDay
And a few puns to end the week on.
A dog gave birth to puppies near the road and was cited for littering.
No matter how much you push the envelope, it'll still be stationery.
The fattest knight at King Arthur's round table was Sir Cumference. He acquired his size from too much pi.
I thought I saw an eye doctor on an Alaskan island, but it turned out to be an optical Aleutian.
A rubber band pistol was confiscated from algebra class because it was a weapon of math disruption.
A grenade thrown into a kitchen in France would result in Linoleum Blownapart.
And on that note, enjoy your weekend. Cheers.
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