TIMBER importers are continuing to hold discussions with officials from various federal government departments about timber product supply realities that have emerged as a result of the invasion of Ukraine.

Australian Timber Importers Federation general manager John Halkett said that in particular, softwood structural timber import shortages, not only from Russia, but from Europe more broadly, were likely to result in a reduction in the capacity of the Australian timber supply chain to import sufficient quantities of both engineered wood products and solid softwood structural products to meet foreseeable demand.

Meetings in Canberra last week included the Department of Industry, Science, Energy, and the Department of Agriculture, Water Resources and Environment. Timber supply challenges and possible government and industry actions related to both softwood and hardwood supplies were top of the agenda.

A meeting was also held with the Housing Industry Association to review timber shortages in the context of building and construction trends.

The significant timber shortage is expected to continue through 2022 and into 2023. However, it has been forecast that Australia will remain short on timber until 2035 and beyond.

Increasing timber production is not a quick fix; we all know, you can’t just grow a new timber plantation overnight. Typically these can take up to 25-30 years before being ready to harvest.

The government’s recently announced $86 million investment in timber plantations to help offset the timber demand will not be realised until at least 2047.

There are many contributing factors to the timber shortage. Some are more recent but others are due to a knock-on effect from a historical lack of investment and supply planning to meet the timber demands of 2022 and beyond.

Since 2001, Australia’s sawlog production from native forests has decreased by 1.615 million cub m, according to Forest and Wood Products Australia.

Typically Australia produces 80% of its required timber domestically, with the remaining 20% sourced from international suppliers. This split has remained steady over recent years. However, both sources have been significantly affected over the past couple of years

Global supply has been affected by the rerouting of available timber to markets paying the highest cost price, typically the US following the 2021 global building boom.

Domestic supply has also been affected by Covid, bushfires, and flood events, all contributing to the availability of timber for harvesting.

In relation to softwood timber supply, a draft report for FWPA – Future market dynamics and potential impacts on Australian timber imports – makes it clear that Australia will have a substantial shortage of softwood timber.

“Because of a persistent and growing gap between demand and supply, on current trajectories Australia faces the prospect of being unable to meet the demand for new housing,” John Halkett said.

By taking immediate action to establish new softwood plantations, the FWPA report suggests Australia can mitigate the risk and increase its sovereign supply capability. The report predicts that by no later than 2050 Australia will have:

• A population between 33.6 and 40 million people.

• New housing demand of around 259,000 dwellings per year.

• 5.2 million additional households whose demography will demand a different housing mix to the current distribution of housing formats.

• Sawn softwood demand of 6.5 million cub m a year– almost 2 million cub m higher than 2021.

• Local sawn softwood production static at between 3.6 and 3.8 million cub m a year due to constraints on sawlog supply.

• An implied gap between demand and local production of 2.638 million cub m a year, equivalent to 40.5% of total demand.

• To bridge the implied gap, Australia could establish as much as 468,000 ha of additional softwood plantations, commencing immediately.

ATIF will be providing further advice to federal officials in coming weeks. Further, chairman Nils Koren and general manager John Halkett will be scheduling a meeting with the new forestry minister Murray Watts as soon as it can be arranged.