East Coast Forestry

August 2017

Harvesting of plantation forests brings benefits to the East Coast

Forests planted on the East Coast of the North Island in the 1990s are now being harvested and they're having a huge positive spin off for the local economy.

New Zealand now has 1.75 million hectares of planted forest, of which around 90 per cent is radiata pine, much of it in first rotation forests. It’s the country’s third biggest export earner behind dairy and red meat and earns twice as much as red meat per hectare.

A third of the world’s radiata forests are grown in New Zealand, with Australia and Chile other major producers.

The forests of Gisborne (Tairawhiti) were historically planted for erosion control, but from the first softwood forest plantings in 1959 they have evolved into an export-earning, employment-providing foundation of the local economy.

Forestry in Gisborne along with associated industries makes a major contribution to the local economy. It also creates indirect benefits such as improving regional water, air and soil quality and it provides opportunities for recreation; along with erosion stabilisation.

Much of the early plantings have been harvested and replanted, but the significant numbers of new plantings throughout the 1990s are now reaching maturity. Within the next decade, the regional harvest volume is expected to jump 50%, reaching 3.2 million tons with more than 90% exported in log form.

Eastland Port sits on 12 hectares and the associated log yards can store approximately 115,000 cubic metres. There are ongoing projects to expand to increase storage capacity.

The port is a key part of the local forestry industry. Log export volumes have continued to climb. In 2005, 350,000 tonnes headed out over the local wharves. By 2016 that had mushroomed to a record 2.302 million tonnes and the expectation is that it will hit 3.4 million tonnes by 2020.

Since 2010, the Eastland Group (who own the port) has spent around $75 million on improvements with plans to invest significantly over the next five years to accommodate customer projections for the forestry harvest.

The wharves have been refurbished and the entire length of the breakwater is undergoing refurbishment as well. There are also plans to deepen the channel so more logs can be loaded on ships year-round, along with the possibility of expanding towards the sea through reclamation, should the need arise.

Port management is constantly looking at ways to minimise its environmental footprint as well as moving logs as efficiently as possible. Every log moving through the port is barcoded, and scanned in and out. An individual log stays an average of just eight days.

The port’s debarking operation is a joint venture with Hikurangi Forest Farms, generating additional value for logs being exported from Gisborne.

Of the 133 ships to dock at Eastland Port over the 2016 financial year, 113 were logging, with 98.4% of total exports being raw logs.

Locally, forestry provides an estimated 1,600 jobs, roughly 3.1% of the district’s population. Given there are around 15,000 households in the region, more than one in four households have a person whose job is dependent on forestry.

The growth performance of the sector is promising for employment and career development. It plays a significant role in regional economic development as a large employer, an employer of youth, in attracting new residents, and in driving up-skilling and ongoing learning to create productivity gains for Gisborne-Tairawhiti and New Zealand.

By 2025 the New Zealand forestry industry is expected to need over 25,000 more trained workers to replace those retiring or leaving the industry.

Chris Hurring is a forestry contractor who first started working for Earnslaw One in 1991 in the South Island and has been on the East Coast since 2006. He has consistently been a top producer, measured by how good his “value recovery” is as well as quality, training, health and safety, and environmental management. 

He was the first contractor in the lower South Island to have a Waratah processor, and to use grapples on his swing yarder. He brought one swing yarder to the East Coast, then purchased a second, and has a single mechanised processor working between the two. He has also expanded into cartage and also runs several trucks. 

Chris says the boom in forestry has enabled contractors involved in the industry to invest in equipment and offers a great flow on affect for the rest of the community. He says the industry doesn’t sell itself well and doesn’t do a good job promoting the skills and ability of the people involved.

Chris believes, along with the common misconception that forestry is “all about chainsaws”, there is a lack of knowledge about pay rates. "Some of our better operators are on $100,000 to over $100,000 a year."  Top-quality younger workers with about a year's experience are on $1000 to $2000 a week, he says.

Locals say the early to mid-1990s were dark days for employment but the whole region now is bristling with jobs.

The forestry industry has had a bad name for workplace accidents but those in the industry say the bad reputation isn’t entirely justified. They quote WorkSafe NZ whose figures from the past 5 years show deaths in agriculture far outstrip deaths in forestry by a ratio of 5 to 1.

However, the industry accepts there is work to do to improve health and safety. The local industry wants to support on the job training. They run a drug and alcohol register that keeps a watch on potential employees who have tested positive for drugs and alcohol in the past. They say that initiative has dropped the incidence of positive tests by 15%.

To support health and safety, the industry runs an incident recording information system (IRIS) to record all accident and incidents which includes: Hours worked, near hits, medical injuries, and lost time injuries.

The system is used to monitor improvements in health and safety, to compare data against industry and is aligned with the goal of zero harm by 2020. The system calculates LTIFR; a definition and calculation of Lost Time Injury Frequency Rates which are the number of lost time injuries within a given accounting period, relative to the total number of hours worked in the same accounting period.

Iain McInnes is the Regional Manager for Earnslaw One – a Malaysian owned company that has been in the Gisborne region for 26 years.

He says demand is strong from Asia – especially in China. He says its ‘go go go.’

Iain says the log contracts are on a month-by-month contract. He says the price is set on a monthly basis. There is a risk involved. He says the forests were planted with the hope there will be a market for the logs. There is also a risk in working out how much to prune each log – depending on the downstream demand for clear wood. 

Iain also acknowledges there is a risk associated with demand coming from only one major market.