Strict limits as some wood processing resumes – Some wood processors will be cleared to resume limited operations this week in order to ensure supplies of key products during the current lockdown or to avoid costly damage to plant.
The Ministry for Primary Industries’ forestry arm – Te Uru Rakau – will oversee a phased increase in activity by sawmills that produce essential goods such as timber for pallets and crates.
Harvesting will not resume, and those mills will be supplied with felled logs already in forest stockpiles and then trucked to mills.
In addition, makers of fibreboard and other engineered wood products will be allowed to restart on a limited basis to use up perishable products such as resin that would otherwise wreck machinery it has been left in or have to be dumped, creating environmental issues.
Forestry Minister Shane Jones said the government has always been willing to take a pragmatic approach in dealing with potentially anomalous situations arising during the covid-19 lockdown.
In doing so, it had to manage both the health risks and the potential economic risks from the shutdown – the latter of which could have long-lasting and “systemic implications” if not dealt with carefully.
“There’s a lot of expectation on the forestry sector that they will be able to live up to the standards that have been required of them,” Jones told BusinessDesk.
No further widening of processing is expected before decisions are taken by the government next week on the next phase of the lockdown, he said.
All the country’s forestry harvesting was halted last month as the government worked to maximise the number of people kept at home in order to suppress the covid-19 outbreak here.
Sawmills were shut nationwide and only plants making packaging and pallets for essential food, export and medical supplies were allowed to continue operating.
Norske Skog Tasman’s paper mill at Kawerau was allowed to continue operating until April 12 to ensure sufficient domestic newsprint supplies, while Oji Fibre Solutions was required to concentrate its activities at its Kinleith mill in order to keep supplying packaging and tissue makers.
In a statement today, Jones said a national stocktake last week showed supplies for several key products would be exhausted before April 22.
As well as timber for pallets, shortages were also expected in wood supply for domestic heating in Canterbury, for wood pellet production for prisons and food processors and for wood chip for fuel and animal welfare in the central North Island.
Additional logs were also needed for Oji’s operation at Kinleith, and commercial nurseries have also been allowed to resume work in order to keep seedlings for the industry alive until the end of lockdown.
Jones said public health remains an “absolute priority” and that was reflected in the staged and minimal reopening of only those parts of the industry that were needed for essential supplies.