The National Forestry Conference “Wood Mobilisation” held in Enfield on July 1 heard how international developments such as the Arab Spring uprisings and the housing market in China affect wood mobilisation and price in Ireland. While local issues dominated the conference, international topics were also discussed by speakers who reminded the audience that Ireland now exports most of its sawn timber and virtually all panel board products.
Andrew Doyle, Minister of State with responsibility for forestry, set the tone for the conference when he outlined the importance of a viable afforestation programme to supply the Irish sawmilling and timber processing industry but emphasised the need to optimise the existing forest resource.
"We must also maximise the volume of raw material that is harvested from our forests, not just roundwood for our processers, but also the less traditional assortments for our growing renewable energy sector,” he said. "The forest machine operator training course and the proposed establishment of forest certification groups, will both contribute to the mobilisation of timber and meeting demand for certified timber."
The Tip O'Neill phrase that "all politics is local" could also be applied to forestry, although it is less local than it used to be as illustrated by Richard Lowe in his presentation on international timber markets. The slump in China's house building programme and reduction in timber importation by a number of North Africa countries after the Arab Spring uprisings on the face of it shouldn't affect Ireland. However, as the Coillte, sales and marketing director pointed out, both developments led to European and international timber suppliers turning their attention to alternative markets especially the UK.
"The UK is Ireland's greatest market but it is also the biggest importer of wood products in Europe with an annual consumption of approximately 9m cubic metres," he said.
While price is a major factor for timber growers and processors, continuity of supply is probably just as important. Alex Kelly, Irish Wood Producers (IWP) outlined the importance of providing a continuous supply of wood chips for her customers. These include Danone in Wexford, which uses wood as a major renewable energy source.
Purchasers of timber products in Ireland and overseas need continuity of supply from timber processor, which is only possible if processors themselves can source a continuous supply of logs. Coillte along with its sawmill customers agree with the principle of supply security and continuity which is why last year they agreed on a timber sales system based on annual contracts.
Continuity was also stressed by Noel Kenna who provided the contractor's perspective at the conference. "Continuity of well planned work is essential for contractors who are the most important link in the timber supply chain from landowner to the end user," the MD of Roundwood Timber Contractors told the conference. "The contractor and machine operators are responsible for quality logging and environmental issues," he said.
He outlined the need for investment in machinery and accompanying technology which is costly but also stressed the need for investment in people especially training which he maintained is urgently required.
Roading and felling licence approval are still major issues for wood mobilisation according to Daragh Little, chairman Irish Forestry and Forest Products Association and MD Forestry, Veon Ltd. He said felling licence and roading schemes were too bureaucratic and time consuming with too many hurdles along the way including public consultation, budgeting, environmental restrictions and planning barriers.
John Ryan, forestry manager with the Murray Timber Group said the company purchases a significant volume of their 500,000m3 production from private forest owners. He stressed the need to create a marketing and production climate to make it easier to do business. He said felling licences should be speeded up as often "markets can change while growers are waiting for approval and the opportunity for a profitable sale may be lost".
Brendan Lacey, CEO, Irish Forestry Unit Trust – IForUT – and chairman, ITGA outlined a number of ITGA initiatives such as the Wood Price Quarterly which can be further developed into a comprehensive collective timber sales system. He also recommended that the Forest Service implement the findings of the recent COFORD report "in particular those related to facilitating voluntary forest certification."
"There is likely to be a potential shortfall in supply of approximately two million cubic metres on the island by 2020, half in sawlog and half in energy wood." maintained Dr. Hendricks. Stuart Goodall, provided the Scottish perspective on increasing supply. The CEO of Confor – the Edinburgh based organisation representing the UK forestry and forestry products industry – recommended greater recovery of wood biomass especially for the burgeoning wood energy market.
"The mobilisation challenge is to achieve and potentially exceed forecasted levels of roundwood production in a sustainable manner," maintained Dr. Hendricks. The fully booked out conference, organised by the Wood Marketing Federation and the Society of Irish Foresters went some way to opening the debate and providing answers on how to optimise wood mobilisation in Ireland.