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Timber shortage – real or perceived?

NZ Landscaper gets the rundown about the reality of the timber shortage, including Carter Holt Harvey’s decision to stop supplying some retailers, and whether the price of timber is rising

Since news reports of a timber shortage emerged in March, rumours of stockpiling have been in the construction industry, with many landscapers also claiming to be affected.

The reports came at the same time as the news that Carter Holt Harvey had halted supply to three major retailers, while maintaining supply with bigger clients including PlaceMakers and Carters Building Supplies.

Following the news, Rotorua sawmill Red Stag put out a media release and told NZ Herald there would be a framing timber shortage for the rest of 2021 which the NZ Herald said “put simply, would mean less houses built in a time of great demand”.

Around that time, New Zealand Certified Builders Association chairperson Mike Craig told media some builders were waiting up to three times longer for product. The Commerce Commission was reported to be looking into Carter Holt Harvey’s decision.

A Commerce Commission spokesperson confirmed with NZ Landscaper that it had undertaken initial enquiries as to whether Carter Holt Harvey had breached the Commerce Act in ceasing supply of structural timber risks.

However, based on the responses to those enquiries, the Commission concluded it “does not intend to undertake further enquires or open an investigation into the conduct of Carter Holt Harvey at this stage”.

While it did not comment on whether a timber shortage may be affecting landscapers, the Commission spokesperson told NZ Landscaper that the “parties the Commission engaged with were generally of the view that there was currently a shortage of structural timber in the market”.

Industry body denies shortage

Despite the views to the contrary, NZ Timber Industry Federation (NZTIF) technical manager Jeff Ilott does not agree. He said that while there has been some shortage of 2.4m SG (structural grade) timber for framing over a few days from time to time in 2021, “we haven’t heard of many issues in relation to landscaping timber”.

“There are no major hold-ups that we’ve been aware of. Merchants have juggled stocks and sawmills have been stepping up supply to meet gaps.”

However, Jeff confirmed domestic production of timber is down, but suggested that people just “have to be a little bit more prepared to order ahead” because sawmills were facing demand of up to 20% more than usual, partially thanks to the near-record numbers of building consents and general busyness within the construction industry.

NZTIF has also noted that, despite speculation to the contrary, while China is a major importer of timber, its needs aren’t the reason behind the occasional NZ SG timber shortages.

“China isn’t really having an impact on domestic supply so much,” said Jeff. “Though it’s probably having an impact on price.”

However, Jeff said that from NZTIF’s point of view, “things have levelled out”.

“There could be isolated pockets where somebody might wander in to get 20 posts [and they’re not available], but that order is filled within a short time.”

Jeff added stockpiling landscaping timber would be unhelpful.

“All that would do is make any potential problem worse. As I say, no one’s been significantly held up on any project because of shortage of supply.”


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