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Panel discussion in Berlin with Steffen Rathke, Thomas Lädrach, Carsten Doehring, Ulf Weber, Lars Schmidt, Leonhard Nossol and Richard Stralz (from left to right)
© Günther Jauk

Congress

Spruce as the tree of the future

Article by Günther Jauk, translated by Susanne Höfler | 25.03.2019 - 15:35

Climate change is a fact. A fact on which the participants of the AGR Raw Materials Summit and Sawmill and Wood Industry Congress 2019 all agreed. The general tenor amongst the experts atttending the conference in Berlin was that besides all the big challenges it entails, this change of the basic parameters on the other hand also holds good opportunities for the sector to position itself as a "central part of the solution to the problem". Furthermore, both sides of the forest-timber value-added chain demanded closer and better cooperation.

Unquestioned was the spruce's role as "bread-and-butter tree of forestry and wood industry" – instead, growing climate- and pest-resistant plants was a matter of discussion.

Better collaboration was demanded

"The forestry sector and the wood industry must throw short-term thinking overboard and collaborate," Leonhard Nossol, AGR president, made a statement in Berlin – a demand that was also supported from the forestry sector, for instance by BaySF sales manager Norbert Remler. He requested "objective pricing" and a "joint solution to the storage question". Gebhard Dünser from Binderholz Germany also welcomed the call for more solidarity and better communication within the sector and elaborated that the "storage issue for small-scale forests can only be solved by the industry" and expressed concern that "large permanent wet storage facilities by forestry could lead to an artificial raw materials shortage".

Both parties approached each other openly in Berlin and saw the event as a possible starting point for future dialogue and a collaborative atmosphere – it remains to be seen how resilient this atmosphere is.

Spruce is not on the ropes

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Roughly 300 participants accepted the invitation to the convention of the sawmill and wood industry that took place mid-March.
© Günther Jauk

Dr. Silvio Schüler, director of the Department of Forest Growth and Silviculture at the BFW Austria presented a positive outlook for the future of the spruce - much to the delight of many participants. Spruce as well as other softwoods are not on the ropes, Schüler said, and elaborated that silviculture and forest plant growth by all means still offer options for the adaptation to climate change. Especially when it comes to growing beetle- and drought-resistant seedlings, however, Germany and Austria still have a lot to do. Scientific findings must be realized and implemented consistently.

Furthermore, felling cycles are significantly shortening – area outputs are increasing. One extreme example Schüler mentions is a Styrian site 1200 m above sea level where next to a 140-year-old trunk with a diameter of 39 cm stands next to a 25-year-old spruce with a diameter of 30 cm. Steffen Rathke, vice president of the DeSH and president of the German Council of Timber Industry pointed out the changing mechanical characteristics of wood in this context: "The forest is outgrowing standardization – a problem that we should tackle as quickly as possible."

USA as a major question mark

With a lumber production of 23 million m³ in 2018, the German timber industry yielded the second-highest production volume in history. „We reacted to the extreme roundwood situation and got the max out of our sawmills," Jörn Kimmich from Ante-Holz assessed the situation and expects similar results for 2019: "The raw material levels allow it and if one of our export markets is faltering usually another one opens up." Not quite as positive was Carsten Doering's assessment of the situation. The managing director of Ilim Timber and president of the Federal Association of German sawmill and timber industry (DeSH)  hinged the current year's success on the situation in the United States: "If this market is going well, we won't have any problems." As for the domestic market, both Kimmich and Doehring see hardly any growth potential left as they already consider it well-utilized.

Sampsa Auvinen, president of the European Organisation of the Sawmill Industry, warned the sector in this context not to rush into hasty capacity expansions. He emphasized that also in handling short-term problems, long-term thinking was important. Expanding capacities could lead to problems later on.