CAN’T live without it, but struggling to afford it. We’re talking, of course, about the spiralling cost of fuel, which has dominated discussion on the Forest Machine Operators Blog in recent weeks, with the industry being hit hard in the pocket. 

One post last month painted a particularly bleak picture.

“So, my liquid gold arrived yesterday,” the member wrote. “It’s working out at £1,440 more expensive per week than it was less than a year ago. 

“Yup, that’s almost £1,500 more I need to find a week (including VAT) to keep the wheels turning. With every other aspect of our industry’s costs spiralling out of control, there isn’t even £1,500 profit in the job now. 

Forestry Journal: Chudders Wilkinson Chudders Wilkinson

“If something isn’t done to help us at the lowest rung of the ladder soon, there’s going to be a hell of a lot of contractors parking up machinery.”

Red diesel costs were routinely hitting more than £1.30/litre last month, and members were in agreement ­— this could be just the tip of the iceberg. 

The post continued: “I’d say most operations would be cheaper to let their current contracts run their course, then shut up shop until we see prices come back down to a reasonable rate – whatever that might be. 

“I’ve around three weeks left on my current job, without taking in to consideration any other rising costs than red diesel – I would make more money parking up and sitting on a seat for someone else (if they decide to carry on contracting by then that is) than I would be pouring red diesel into these machines.

Forestry Journal: Gav Robertson Gav Robertson

“In the last three days I’ve had two operators phoning for jobs because their boss has parked up. With the average age of an operator at, what, over 50? This is a pretty serious situation for the industry if these guys decide this is the final straw and leave all together.” 

You could say operators are being led like lambs to the slaughter unless the government offers more support to help the industry, and that’s exactly what some members did. 

“Like lambs to the slaughter,” one said. But what can be done about it? The poster posed an interesting suggestion. “If everybody just parks up for 10 to 14 days, the country will crumble, the government will reduce the duty and release more if our own oil instead of selling elsewhere.”

READ MORE: Bites from the Blog, March 2022: Public ignoring timber harvesting sites warnings

At the time of writing, there’s been no mass nationwide protest yet, but you never know.

Maybe – just maybe – you’re all reading this on day nine, with hard-nosed government officials finally beginning to crack as trees litter the roads and timber remains rot on the ground.

Whatever happens, the majority – if not all – members were in agreement. Help is needed now, before it’s too late. 

Forestry Journal: Greg Jackson Greg Jackson

One user said: “Fuel costs are only going one way rapidly at the moment and that always means big inflation and the whole shit-show that brings. Fasten your seatbelts because it’s going to get bumpy for a while.”

Worryingly, one added: “Be almost the same shortly as buying white diesel by the time you claim back VAT.” 

It’s also a fast-moving picture, as another member proved. “Got priced today at 10 am for £1.18 plus VAT. Phoned back to add more onto order at 3 pm and she said it’s jumped to £1.26 plus VAT.”


Forestry Journal: Mathias Bieder Mathias Bieder

“Just another cost for the contractor and hauliers to soak up,” said one member, before issuing a rallying call. “We all need to raise this with Forestry England, landowners, land agents or whoever you are contracting for. 

“Nothing is going to change with rates unless we all make some noise. I have spoken to a timber buyer today to try and get an increase in rate to cover but was met with the response of no one is complaining, you just have to soak it up. 

“Perhaps they will all see when there is no timber being cut because we can’t afford, or even get, diesel they don’t actually have a business without us. Speak up!”

Another member also pointed to the apparent lack of support from the timber industry. 

Forestry Journal: Robert Houston Robert Houston

“Timber price has about doubled in the last 18 months to two years,” they wrote. “Surely your customer will have plenty of room to move. Plenty of companies pulling out of contracts, using force to walk away and renegotiate terms.” 

In more encouraging news, some support is on the way. As we reported, Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS) and Forestry England have measures in place to accommodate rising fuel costs, with the latter already activating a number of clauses to negate spiralling prices. This should help in the short-term and conversations appear to be taking place to deal with the long-term impact. 

One member even went so far as to say he’s already had encouraging chats about increasing rates next year. 

Forestry Journal: Shane O'Sullivan Shane O'Sullivan

“To be fair, I’ve had nothing but positive conversations regarding rate increases with most of those we work for. Although I haven’t spoken with them all yet. 

“Everyone is up against it, but those that we harvest for want us to still be there next year and the year after. They need us as we need them.”

Another sign of encouragement was shown by a member who found contractors were much more eager to help than they had expected. 

“I know it doesn’t make the job any more profitable and I know I’m not dealing with standing sales or sawmills but I have been talking the last two weeks with people we work for and everyone has been extremely accommodating and asked me to keep talking to them to adjust rates to help out,” the reply read. 

“I have agreed to come back down to my current rates if diesel drops (rightly or wrongly, I’m not sure) but all talks have been a lot easier and more open than I was expecting, to be honest.

“I’m hoping I can carry on with good relationships at work and feel lucky compared to some of you boys.” 

Forestry Journal: Simon Flack Simon Flack

Perhaps demand was on the rise due to the impending change in red diesel’s rebated tax status. Several members – maybe in hope, more than anything – suggested a demand ahead of this had contributed to rising costs, such as this one: “Have you thought maybe they have ramped the price of red up so come April – when most will have to go to white – the price difference won’t hurt them? I bet a couple of months after red will drop back to half the price again.” 

Keep everything crossed! 

Sticking with diesel troubles but of a very different kind, members wasted little time in helping out an operator who was struggling to identify a problem with his Valtra N141 and N103. 

“They both have max 1,850 RMP and gutless power,” he wrote in a plea for help. “Filters have been changed twice. All air into the engine has been checked over and no error codes. 

“They’re not in limp mode, just powerless. Just odd how two machines are doing it, so leaning to diesel causing a problem. 

“A diesel sample has been sent off and waiting for that. 

“Two dealerships don’t know what it is and Valtra just want to replace expensive parts until they find what’s wrong. 

“Has anyone has something similar?” 

Forestry Journal: Jack Osborne Jack Osborne

As always, members didn’t let one another down, with scores jumping to his aid. 

“I had this on mine,” one responded. “The pipe that soaks up the diesel from the tank has a gauze filter on and got blocked/clogged up. Valtra couldn’t find the problem so used an old mechanic who said start at the beginning.” 

Another said: “Ours did something similar. Try an air line down the fuel pipe between the first filter and the tank to clear any blockage or crap on the end. Take the filler cap off and let it bubble through.”

“Had similarish problem before,” one said. “Couldn’t figure it out for ages. Blew out the line that brings the diesel from the tank. Problem solved straight away.”

Forestry Journal: Jack Tweddle Jack Tweddle

Did any of the answers work? The original poster hasn’t revealed so yet, which is either really good news or (worryingly) really bad news. We’re hoping it’s the former and he’s not been spending his time sending out invoices to members for their ‘solutions’...