Southern forest harvest set to double
Boom raises logistical issuesEVAN HARDING
Hundreds of extra forestry workers will be needed in Southland and Otago in coming years to harvest huge numbers of trees planted in the 1990s.
Industry experts say about 40 skilled forestry gangs in Southland and Otago chop down mature radiata pine trees and load them onto trucks, but they believe at least 80 gangs will be required in coming years.
The harvest is expected to double by the 2020s, with the increase in volume set to begin in 2016.
This is because many farmers and investment syndicates planted pine trees in the early to mid-1990s when there was a downturn in farming, land prices were relatively cheap and radiata pine prices were high.
Fast forward 24 years and those trees are nearly ready to harvest.
Mike Mitchell, project manager of Invercargill-based forest management company IFS Growth, said the eight largest corporate owners in Southland and Otago would harvest 1.2 million cubic metres of wood this year and they would harvest the same amount in 2025.
However, there were around 2000 small forest owners such as farm foresters and those in forest partnerships who were harvesting 350,000 cubic metres of wood this year, but were projected to increase their harvest to 1.5 million cubic metres of wood in 2025.
Mr Mitchell said the extra jobs generated by the small block harvests would be a positive for the region, but logistical issues needed to be addressed before the wood came on stream.
These included more forestry workers being trained, more trucks required to transport the logs and roads needing to be built in and out of many blocks.
Pine prices were strong at the moment, but there was a risk many small growers could get lower prices if they could not harvest their trees when they wanted to and supply doubled, he said.
Mr Mitchell and IFS Growth managing director Dan Minehan said the industry as a whole needed to think about the issues, plan ahead and work together to ensure everyone benefited from the harvest boon.
"This is a problem that is going to exist in five years time and we are working on how to understand it and manage it," Mr Minehan said.
The issue was a nationwide one, not just in Southland and Otago.
- The Southland Times