Timber Update May 2022

by | May 16, 2022

Pulp log trial expected to ease timber crisis

The use of low-value wood fibre in engineered products  could see structural timber costs decrease.

Forest and Wood Products Australia, in partnership with the Green Triangle Forest Industries Hub, has received an Agricultural Trade and Market Access Cooperation Program Grant that will investigate the use of low-value wood fibre in engineered products in an effort to ease structural timber costs.

According to an ABC report, the Green Triangle received the $1.3 million Federal Government Grant to create new wood products using softwood and hardwood pulp in an effort to assist current timber shortages.

If successful the new products could be a welcome relief after a report by Forest and Wood Products Australia found demand for new housing will climb from 183,000 new dwellings per year to 259,000 by 2050, leading to a 50 per cent increase in demand for sawn softwood.

Construction Forestry Maritime Mining and Energy Union National Secretary Michael O’Connor said in the report that more action was definitely needed.

“Australia is not going to be able to build the new homes that it needs in the future if we do not take urgent action now to ensure we have the softwood supply we need. The timber shortage crisis is a global problem, and Australia cannot look to other markets for solutions. We need our own plan,” Mr O’Connor said in the report.

Green Triangle Forest Industries Hub Executive General Manager Liz McKinnon said in the report that the project was potentially exciting for the regional industry as it underpinned thousands of local jobs.

“Recent export log bans to China highlighted the lack of domestic processing opportunities for both softwood pulp log and hardwood chip, while at the same time there has been a shortage of structural timber. This project will determine whether it is feasible to manufacture an engineered wood product for use in building construction using this fibre,” Ms McKinnon said.

Australian Forest Products Association Chief Executive Ross Hampton said the forestry sector’s innovation could alleviate the domestic timber shortage.

“We think this project is going to free up a lot more timber in the future if it successfully works. Ultimately we hope to deliver more timber to our markets, to our domestic processes; and to those consumers, builders, homeowners and renovators who are so desperately after more timber,” he said in the report.

While he welcomed new wood products to assist the construction crisis, Mr Hampton pointed out that it would take more than innovation to alleviate timber supply pressure.

“Ultimately, of course, we really have to get more trees in the ground. That is the big solution and this is what we are pushing really hard for in this election,” Mr Hampton said.

In its April 2022 Interim report, Forest and Wood Products Australia predicted that Australia needs an additional 468,000 hectares of softwood plantations before 2050 to cope with demand.

Until the required trees are in the ground, Member for Barker, Tony Pasin, said the government contribution will allow the industry to develop the concrete and steel of the next generation, adding value to traditionally low-value fibres.

“From my perspective that means an Aussie log is being converted into a high-value offering via a whole series of Aussie jobs along that value chain. Now if some of those engineered wood products end up in boats leaving this port for destinations international, fantastic. But equally these products will service our local market which will increasingly clamour for these hybrid-engineered wood products,” Mr Pasin said in the report.

Bunnings set to double frame and truss plants

Bunnings plans to double the number of processing plants it uses to manufacture wooden frames and trusses over the next 18 months in an effort to not only combat ongoing timber shortages but also grow market share in the high-growth category.

Bunnings currently operates three frame and truss sites based in Hallam Victoria, Warnervale New South Wales and Unanderra, also in New South Wales. The three sites supply high-quality materials in the pre-fabrication of roof trusses, floor trusses and wall frames, servicing a mix of volume, project and SME builders. Bunnings Chief Operating Officer – Commercial, Ben McIntosh says Bunnings has operated Frame and Truss plants in Australia for over 20 years and sees a lot of opportunity in this area.   

“We are excited to be expanding our participation in this market, improving our offer and working with even more customers to provide solutions for their projects, end to end.”

“The expansion plans form part of our wider commercial strategy as we continue to be a trusted partner to builders from the moment they are planning a build, right through to the fit out,” Mr McIntosh said.

The investment is expected to create a number of new manufacturing jobs while also expanding on the current frame and truss team that service customers with quoting, estimating and detailing for both small and large-scale projects. The new frame and truss sites are rumoured to be located in Melbourne, Brisbane and New South Wales with Bunnings expected to use the new offer to entice builders into purchasing a variety of building materials required on-site alongside the frames and trusses. 

Target customers are expected to be residential builders who work within the medium-density residential market. The announcement comes as local builders become concerned that a fresh wave of building material shortages is on its way, according to the report, particularly as Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine continues to disrupt 15 per cent of global timber supply.

TFPA raises concerns around timber shortage

The Tasmanian Forest Products Association (TFPA) has raised concerns that timber shortages could damage the housing construction sector after a Forest and Wood Products Australia (FWPA) interim report found Australia’s reliance on imported timber will double by 2050. 

The unprecedented increase in demand is even more likely if the nation falls short of the plan to plant one billion plantation trees, a recent Examiner report has found.

The report revealed that heightened construction activity has resulted in a 50 per cent increase in demand for timber, with TFPA Chief Executive Officer Nick Steel saying there was a substantial dependence on imported timber.

“The critical timber shortages of the past two years have exposed Australia’s over-reliance on timber imports which have become more expensive and difficult to source. This has also driven up building costs and significantly delayed construction.”

“The finding that our reliance on timber imports could blow out to double over the next 30 years should be ringing alarm bells among policymakers. Furthermore, the global push for more fibre to transform building systems, the pivot away from plastics and move to sustainable biofuels, along with the need to halt deforestation internationally will only make gaining imports even more difficult,” Mr Steel said in the report.

“There is time to avert this crisis if all levels of government work with industry to ensure Australia reaches its one billion new production trees goal and fill more of the supply gap with Aussie grown, renewable timber, and in the process support the hundreds of thousands of jobs forest industries underpin.”

“The Coalition’s recently announced $305 million forest industries package to support new plantations and drive forestry and timber innovation is an excellent start. TFPA looks forward to seeing Labor’s response to Our Plan for Growth, including measures to achieve the One Billion Trees Goal,” Mr Steel said.

Labor Agricultural Spokeswoman and Member for Franklin, Julie Collins, said that the opposition remained loyal to the native timber industry and growing the plantation industry.

“Forestry is part of Labor’s $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund, which will value add to the sector, make more here in Australia and unlock new jobs and investment. Labor will work closely with the industry and all levels of government to help grow our forestry industry,” Minister Collins said in the report.