11 Jul 2010

China's appetite for timber behind forestry boom

5:34 pm on 11 July 2010

The forestry industry is celebrating what it says has been its best year in decades, largely due to China's appetite for timber.

Ten years ago log exports to China accounted for about 7% of New Zealand's sales, but in 2009 China took 56%.

Official figures from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry show a record timber harvest of 22 million cubic metres - mainly radiata pine - in the year to the end of March, 16% more than the previous year.

The 5.5 million cubic tonnes harvested in the first quarter of the year is the largest ever for a March quarter.

Nearly half the trees felled were taken as logs and 50% of those went to China.

Can the boom be sustained?

While hailing the year as an extraordinary one, Wood Council chairman Doug Drucker cautions that it can't go on forever.

But a logging contractor from Tokoroa, Paul Olsen, disagrees; he thinks the good times will continue, because export markets are also emerging in India, Korea and Japan.

Mr Olsen says logging contractors have been having trouble buying equipment and finding enough labour because of the record harvest.

Mr Drucker says forestry companies like the one he runs are upgrading their processing equipment to try to meet the runaway Chinese demand.