By Jim Stirling
British Columbia’s forest industry is coming off its own version of an “annus horribilis”. But unlike when Queen Elizabeth II famously used the term to describe her family’s misfortunes in 1992, the provincial forest industry may well be facing more ‘horrible years’ before the industry succeeds in realigning itself and resumes a more positive and diversified trajectory.
That said, the year 2020 does promise progress toward reversing the forest industry’s fortunes and restoring investor confidence in the B.C. industry.
“2019 was a very difficult year with lots of challenges,” concurs Susan Yurkovich, President and CEO of the B.C. Council of Forest Industries (COFI). “We’ve endured significant operational downtime and mill closures.”
While those factors will form the context for COFI’s annual convention and trade show this year, they will not be its focus.
COFI’s annual convention is usually the largest event of its kind on the Canadian forest industry calendar. It attracts industry CEOs and executives from North America and overseas. The convention is attended by representatives—and speakers—from all levels of the forest industry, the federal and provincial governments, First Nation governments and their regional and local counterparts. The COFI event is also well attended by those providing the broad range of services needed to support an industry the size and scope of forestry.
This year’s convention will return to the Prince George Civic Centre April 1 to 3. No provincial region has escaped the enforced effects contributing to the forest industry’s predicament, but it is fair to say the B.C. Interior with its many forest dependent communities has experienced and is still enduring some of the harshest consequences of mill closures and lumber production curtailments.
But both convention speakers and participants will be looking forward. One of the key conversational topics—formally and informally—is expected to be discussions surrounding “Smart Future: A Path Forward for B.C.’s Forest Industry”.
“We will indeed be talking about it,” confirms Yurkovich of the COFI-produced discussion document.
Smart Future contains five broad discussion categories designed to help move the forest industry forward in a positive and comprehensive manner. The categories are:
Smart Future’s lead-off recommendation—investing in and protecting a working forest land base in B.C.—is fundamental in a province where other groups and constituents have been successful in carving off large chunks of B.C.’s publicly owned land base. Establishment and protection of a working forest land base provides a level of certainty required by potential investors.
“The industry needs to have secure access to fibre at a reasonable cost,” summarizes Yurkovich. Forest companies can then better make decisions to look at manufacturing products that move up the value chain, she adds.
A constant volatility surrounding industry costs and operating conditions has plagued B.C. forest companies in recent years.
“We’re an export industry, about 90 per cent of B.C.’s wood products are exported, and the competition out there is fierce and becoming more so,” continues Yurkovich.
The realization was reinforced last November when Yurkovich and other B.C. forest industry executives were part of the annual trade mission to Asia led by Doug Donaldson, B.C.’s Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development.
“There are lots of opportunities for B.C. forest companies in Asia and especially in China, but we have to be competitive,” she explains. About 25 per cent of B.C.’s wood product exports are destined for China, she points out. But the Chinese market potential has not gone unrecognized by wood product producers elsewhere. European countries are aggressively exporting to China, for example, and so is Russia, boosted by a devalued Ruble. The industry has to produce the products required by China on a consistent basis with a cost structure that’s appropriate to a competitive market, explains Yurkovich.
But B.C. no longer has the low cost lumber producer status in the marketplace it once enjoyed. Fibre costs and trade issues are among the reasons why. The industry has been successfully combating internal costs for years, but it has to make further strides. Yurkovich suggests the regulatory efficiencies Smart Future refers to might help. “The way we manage our forests to achieve more yield from them and finding smarter ways generally of doing business will help our overall cost structure.”
But the wheels of change are turning in the right direction.
“We share a lot of common goals about wood fibre with the provincial government. They, too, want a healthy forest sector,” says Yurkovich. COFI and the rest of the forest industry has also been collaborating with other partners including universities, colleges, First Nations and other associations. “We’re putting the building blocks in place,” she adds.
A few more might be positioned when COFI’s convention dates roll around. Program details and key speakers were still being confirmed at the Logging & Sawmilling Journal’s deadlines But the convention organizers always present a top level speaker list drawn from diverse spheres to address the several hundred delegates expected. The 2020 convention will prove no exception with presenters who are both educational and provocative.
The impact of the Coronavirus on the Chinese economy is likely to be among the topics that will be discussed by speakers and attendees, formally and informally, at the COFI convention.
This Annual General Meeting will also include a couple of pace-changing events that have proved popular in recent conventions. They feature the industry leaders of today and tomorrow. The informal and insightful dialogue of the CEO’s panel —the people faced with the realities of today’s challenging circumstances—and the young people’s panel where opinions and ideas are voiced from a different and often refreshing perspective.
As ever, the Prince George event will have ample time built into the formal agenda for delegates to renew acquaintances and relate their survival strategies. The always well-presented and diversified trade show component is a further essential part of the COFI annual convention experience.
Consult cofi.org for the latest 2020 convention updates and registration information.
On the Cover:
Building components manufacturer Katerra recently opened North America’s highest volume cross-laminated timber (CLT) factory in Spokane Valley, Washington, and Logging and Sawmilling Journal has all the details on the new production facility beginning on page 28. The new plant has an annual manufacturing capacity of 185,000 cubic metres, the equivalent of 13 million square feet of 5-ply panels (Cover photo courtesy of Katerra Inc.).
Advocating safety—in all parts of logging
The BC Forest Safety Council is a leader in forest safety, and its employees such as Mike Pottinger are great advocates for industry safety, from the bush to the repair shop.
COFI Conference coming up in April
Logging and Sawmilling Journal outlines the issues and previews the B.C. Council of Forest Industries’ (COFI) annual convention coming up in April in Prince George, B.C., the largest gathering of the forest sector in Western Canada.
Giving ‘er in B.C. logging…
Young logging contractors may be in short supply these days, but the ones that are out there, like B.C.’s Brandon Connolly, are extremely effective with their equipment, and are—as Connolly says—“giving ‘er”.
More chips, please!
B.C.’s Valiant Log Sort has seen big-time growth in its wood chipping operations, with the closure/curtailment of a number of sawmills, and it has added to its equipment line-up with a new CBI 7544 Flail Debarker and Disc Chipper.
Manufacturing CLT state-side—with Canadian lumber
Building components manufacturer Katerra has opened a $150 million, high-volume cross-laminated timber (CLT) factory in Washington State—and feedstock, in the form of dimensional lumber, is all coming from Canada.
Breaking down wood—without breaking the bank
B.C. custom sawmiller Bob Jerke has discovered how to break down timbers into high volumes of boards without breaking the bank, thanks to a lower cost, manually-operated band sawmill.
Logging and Sawmilling Journal takes flight with this Tech Update, with a focus on drones in the forest industry.
Included in this edition of The Edge, Canada’s leading publication on research in the forest industry, are stories from Alberta Innovates and Canadian Wood Fibre Centre (CWFC).
The Last Word
The present may look gloomy for the B.C. Interior forest industry, but it is tackling adversity and planning for the future, explains columnist Jim Stirling.