CHALLENGING TIMES: Rodney Woods of J Notaras and Sons works at the South Grafton sawmill.
CHALLENGING TIMES: Rodney Woods of J Notaras and Sons works at the South Grafton sawmill.

CUT IN HALF: Forestry losses compounded by virus

IF HAVING your supply disrupted by bushfire wasn't bad enough, a 68-year-old timber company now has to deal with diminished demand.

When bushfires decimated forests across the Clarence Valley last year Donna Layton, general manager of J Notaras and Sons Timber in South Grafton, said it was clear early on their supply would be seriously affected and a "business as usual" approach would have meant they would "run out of logs".

"Staff are working four days a week so we are not saying 'we have no work for you next week'," she said.

"Even though they are working reduced hours everyone knows they have a job."

Ms Layton said while supply steadied somewhat, it was nothing like usual and they were "very limited with our species mix".

"Spotted gum is a species we usually have a high percentage of - we've had none since Christmas," she said.

Around 60 per cent of the harvest area available for timber production has been impacted by recent bushfire.

PUSHING THROUGH: General manager of J Notaras and Sons, Donna Layton, has been guiding the timber mill through some challenging times.
PUSHING THROUGH: General manager of J Notaras and Sons, Donna Layton, has been guiding the timber mill through some challenging times.

A Forestry Corporation spokesperson said the impact varied greatly depending on the intensity of the fire and species in the forest.

"On the North Coast, Forestry Corporation is working to supply as much of the contracted volumes of timber as possible while of course ensuring the supply will be sustainable in future years," the spokesperson said.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit, Notaras Timbers' supply problem was suddenly compounded by a problem of demand as the private construction industry ground to a halt.

"We really took a big hit, even though we are an industry classed an essential service," Ms Layton said.

"We have applied for the Job Keeper payment which will help us maintain our staff and that is really important."

While she welcomed many of the measures announced in the wake of both events, she was wary of taking on debt.

The current Wood Supply Agreement between Forestry Corporation and sawmills like J Notaras and Sons is due to expire in 2023, meaning taking on loans while their supply was not secure was too much of a risk.

Both Ms Layton and Timber NSW director Steve Dobbyns said resource security was a major issue and a roadblock to accepting some bushfire recovery loans.

"Those looking to invest in new machinery, particularly those affected by the bushfires, will have a shorter period of surety and the banks take this into account," Mr Dobbyns said.

"We have been assured by the NSW Government that the agreements would be extended until 2028, in line with Boral WSA, but we are yet to see any action."

Mr Dobbyns also said if there was to be a shortfall in supply from Forestry Corporation as a result of the bushfires, the burden should be shared equally across the industry, including a fair species mix.

"If everyone has got to share the pain it should be shared proportionally based on allocation."

A Forestry Corporation spokesperson said the WSAs allowed for variations in supply in any given year to account conditions of timber harvesting and market demand.

"The volumes on the north coast for this financial year are generally expected to be within the standard variation of contracts," they said.



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