Timber shortage not expected to be 'overly prolonged' - sawmilling industry

The timber shortage has sparked concerns in the construction industry.
The timber shortage has sparked concerns in the construction industry. Photo credit: Getty

The body representing the country's sawmills says the current timber shortage comes as no surprise after the closure of a number of large sawmills in recent years.

However, if history is anything to go by it shouldn't last too long, it says.

The comments come after Carter Holt Harvey cut the supply of structural timber to retailers Bunnings, ITM and Mitre 10, adding further stress to a sector already struggling to keep up with demand.

That move sparked warnings from builders that house construction may face delays.

Although the shortage is causing stress for many in the construction industry, the New Zealand Timber Industry Federation Inc (NZTIF) says the situation was foreseeable with sawmills under increasing pressure over recent months to supply the booming domestic timber market.

NZTIF director Kevin Hing said efforts were being made to supply the demand, and in some cases mills were already diverting export timber back into the domestic market.

Despite this, the ability of sawmills to ramp up production quickly had been constrained in some regions by a lack of availability and rising costs of logs and labour.

"However, based on other available timber milling production capacity and previous cyclical shortages, the New Zealand Timber Industry Federation doesn't expect the current timber shortage to be overly prolonged," Hing said on Monday.

He urged people needing timber to "avoid panic buying" and to plan builds well ahead. They should also consider using other timber sizes, grades and specifications that may be more available.

"The biggest challenge to lifting production for mills is getting enough logs and in turn, competing on supply and price with the Chinese buyers and the export demand for NZ logs," Hing said.

"The next challenge then is getting enough skilled staff to put on additional shifts. Getting the mix of skills required, or training staff, has been an ongoing issue to the timber industry for a number of years."

Hing called on the Government to include jobs related to the industry on the essential skills shortage list so immigrant labour could be used to fill the shortfall in the short term.