In red: areas with higher volumes of damaged wood after storm Vaia © Holzkurier

austria, italy

More clarity on the consequences of Vaia

Article by Gerd Ebner (translated by Eva Guzely) | 08.02.2019 - 11:19

As of yet, Timber-Online does not have an official confirmation as to the damages caused by Vaia. However, in the Veneto region they have recently been estimated at 3 million sm³. In the first months after the storm, more than 8 million sm³ were believed to have been damaged.

Stumpage price at 16 €/sm³

In some areas of Northern Italy, removal operations are well under way. In the Cadore valley, logs are lying on the ground on several hundred hectares. A local timber carrier and sawmill owner has bought more than 100,000 sm³ – supposedly for 16 €/sm³ per stumpage (all assortments; without firewood). This log wood is marketed in Italy and Austria. A newly purchased harvester helps with the cutting and removing of logs. Using his own trucks, the entrepreneur can harvest and deliver the wood.

Another “centre” of removal is on the Asiago plateau, whose geography allows the use of harvesters. In general, the cutting and removing of damaged trees will take longer in the Veneto region than in Southern Tirol or Carinthia, for example, because of the lack of necessary infrastructure. To make matters more complicated, Vaia was accompanied by torrential rains which destroyed roads and interrupted the electricity supply in the Veneto region. Understandably, the repair of those damages had priority in the first months after the storm.

Damaged wood can’t go too far

In the Veneto region, stumpage prices are supposedly at about 15 €/sm³. The wood might cost around 40 to 55 €/sm³ free forest road.

Austrians again calculate a freight of at least 25 to 30 €/sm³ for the transport to the sawmills of Tirol, Eastern Tirol or Carinthia. Nearby timber processing companies can calculate a cost of 65 to 85 €/sm³ free sawmill. If storage places need to be created, another 5 to 10 €/sm³ (dry storage) or 10 to 20 €/sm³ (wet storage) have to be added. The risk of blue stain also has to be taken into account. The quality of the damaged wood varies greatly, from “very good” to “catastrophic”. Complete losses are also possible.

Railway transport as a bottleneck

Supposing journeys with 15 trucks every day, a big Austrian sawmill could receive 420 sm³ a day and subsequently about 90,000 sm³ a year. In South Tyrol loading takes place only in the train stations at Innichen (San Candido) and Franzensfeste (Fortezza). South Tyroleans speak of “1,000 tons a week which will soon cross the Brenner Pass in trains” (fresh spruce: about 800 kg/sm³).

The transport via truck works quite well in South Tyrol. An additional 200 to 250 articulated trucks are supposed to be on the road every day, with costs already “normalising” after the rise in prices immediately after the storm at the end of October 2018.

The little snowfall south of the Alps makes the cutting and removing of logs easier. Also, because of heavy snowfalls in Austria, many Austrian harvesting entrepreneurs have recently begun work in South Tyrol. Up to 200,000 sm³ are reported to have been removed from the forests already.

Some lumberjacks in the Veneto and Friuli regions as well as in South Tyrol have bought stumpage wood themselves and are marketing it. Opinions differ on whether their prices are in conformity with the market or not.

In the Carinthian valley Lesachtal, the removal of the logs remains very difficult. Lowering them with a rope from the mountains down to the only road in the valley is not easy. Operations are running at the fastest speed possible. The transport from this area, however, is slow. As a consequence, much is pre-produced but it reaches the processing companies only gradually. Deliveries will probably peak only after the reopening of forest roads starting in May.

Bark beetles and longhorn beetles lay in wait

Once the roads are open again, there is no time to lose. The bark beetle is the first threat to the wood. Then, starting in August, the longhorn beetle may infest areas where damaged trees have not been removed.

Enormous price differences

In Austria, the consequences of storm Vaia have led to a differentiation of log wood prices which has hardly ever been seen in this form in the recent past. Within two weeks in November, there was a difference of 20 €/sm³ between prices in those areas of East Tyrol and Upper Carinthia, which have been mainly hit, and prices in the other regions of Austria.

Not much has changed since November. Today, about 100 days after the storm, there is still a difference of 15 to 20 €/sm³ compared to regions which were not affected, e.g. Styria. Prices range from 70 to 91 €/sm³ in a relatively small geographic area. As to Austria as a whole, Timber-Online’s survey shows prices of 73 to 88 €/sm³. Last year at this time, prices were about 11 €/sm³ higher than today.