‘It’s death by a thousand cuts’ – timber industry calls for action now

“GP Wood has spent about €50 million in its facilities since 2017 and if I thought we were going to be where we are today, ya know, maybe the decision-making process might have been different.”

In an interview with AgriLand, managing director of GP Wood in Cork Niall Grainger has said that he is now importing timber from abroad due to a lack of supply in the Irish market.

“Virtually from the start of 2020, there has been less and less timber to buy because of it being tied up in the department, both with the forestry service trying to get licences out and then also in the appeals,” he said.

“The objectors…they’re part of the problem but I don’t think they’re the main aggressor; they’re not the main part of the problem.

This has been in no uncertain terms…and I’ll try to use the least colourful language as possible…an unmitigated disaster. This has been an own goal of the highest order.

Grainger has said that everybody was aware of what was coming now it’s coming to fruition.

“It’s death by a thousand cuts. The reality of the situation is we’d probably be where we are today an awful lot sooner had it not been for Covid, because remember a lot of the wood processing facilities closed down for a period of time earlier in the year.

“Wood processing is like a massive ship and it takes an awful long time to turn. Out in the marketplace it has created a real false aggressive market.

“You now have people who have licences and being in a seller’s market position and you’re getting behaviour which isn’t akin to what you’d imagine a normal operating commissions market. There is a false market out there at the moment for logs,” Grainger added.

New legislation

“With the legislation that was passed last week…there is action being taken on the ground. I think that is going to be a positive.

The Irish wood processing industry is a really modern machine, for the want of a better description. We’re operating to the highest standards both in health and safety and with the environmental implications.

“Irish wood processors have to be better in class that our UK counterparts and our European counterparts, because we’re on an island. 50% of what GP would sell exports into the UK so we have to be better than the UK or better than the guys in Europe.

“We’re an exceptionally modern industry and with a modern industry, we want modern standards. We want professional standards,” said Grainger.

Forestry and timber jobs

GP Wood, which has bases in Enniskeane and Lissarda, Co. Cork, employs around 250 people.

“GP Wood has had to make some tough decisions in the last couple of months, no more so than actually having to import timber from the continent and also notifying my staff that there was going to be reduced time coming down the track.

This month, some of my facilities are going to actually be on short time and it’s all based on supply – log supply; raw material supply for the mills.

“I turned around to my staff last week and said we’re in a better place this week than we were two weeks ago. The legislation is there; the regulation is now in place. But it’s only half-time.

“Two weeks ago we were looking in to the tunnel, now we’re half through the tunnel and we can see the exit, but it’ll all be in vain if for example the Forest Service doesn’t start getting through the backlog of licences,” said Grainger.

While GP Wood employs hundreds of people directly, the managing director says it’s like “what Google is to Dublin” in terms of the spin out jobs in the local economy.

Importing timber

“People forget that a sawmill isn’t just about producing timber for construction; a very large proportion of what a sawmill produces is for packaging and pallets,” adds Grainger.

If you think of how important the likes of some of the big multinational, food ingredient companies are to the country; if they didn’t have pallets to be able to ship their materials, it’s a big deal.

“If there was a political will, there would be a political way. But until such time as we actually brought it to the brink and people started getting laid off for a short time and I started importing timber from Germany and Belgium, I don’t know were we taken [seriously].

Niall Grainger managing director GP Wood

“I’ve five ship loads of timber booked now and going in to the first quarter of next year and I’m doing it for two reasons: number one, to make sure that GP Wood still keep its customers if/when the logs come back on stream; and the second reason as well is to be able to kind of support the current infrastructure that GP Wood has – 250 people employed directly,” concludes Grainger.