Voices of Forestry is a new series of features offering analysis and insight direct from some of the most well-known and respected figures across the forestry industry. Each month, Forestry Journal will provide a platform for a different writer to share their unfiltered opinions on the subjects that matter to them. This month, offering his views on the issues facing his sector is contract sawmiller, Wood-Mizer UK agent and chairman of the Association of Scottish Hardwood Sawmillers, Keith Threadgall.

HAVING been asked to voice my thoughts and opinions on my side of the industry, I suppose I would say I am on two sides of it as I do contract mobile sawmilling with a Wood-Mizer and I work as an agent for Wood-Mizer UK. So I get to see things from both perspectives.

On the contract sawmilling side of things, the past 18 months have certainly seen growth for me. When COVID came along I, like a lot of people, thought: what’s going to happen to my business? Where do we go from here?

However, after the first few weeks of lockdown, people started to phone and ask if I could go back milling again as a lot of suppliers of sawn timber had remained closed. What people realised was they could get the raw material, but they needed it processed. That’s where knowing someone with a mobile sawmill comes in handy.

Since then, business has remained very good. I did think a lot more people would have started up contract milling or at least looked into it as there were considerable opportunities there, with funding available via the government grants introduced as a result of COVID, which would help them get started. But maybe it’s not everyone’s idea of a good job.

I also am involved in an organisation called ASHS (Association of Scottish Hardwood Sawmillers), or I should say I am the current chairman. We have near-on 60 members from all over Scotland, the majority sawmillers from very small mills with one person, ranging to more medium-sized mills with up to 10 people working there.

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From what I have been told, they have all been busy as well throughout the past 18 months, though some with higher numbers of employees did close for a while at the beginning of the first lockdown.

The biggest issue many are facing now is the price they are paying for roundwood timber, which seems to have increased significantly since autumn of last year. They are now having to change their own prices regularly to keep on the right side of the increases.

It seems quite crazy that the mill wood price has gone up so much when the demand is there. I know fuel increases and machines etc have all considerably increased in price in the past year – and more so since Brexit.

A lot of people are processing this timber for the trade, but a lot of it is for domestic customers with projects in mind for their gardens, from raised beds and cladding to decking areas, summer houses, man caves and woman caves. There also seem to be a lot of people building pubs in their gardens as well.

What a lot of the people milling timber are highlighting is they are struggling to get supplies of larch or Douglas fir saw-logs. These are the timbers most people are asking for as they are durable for outdoor structures and don’t need to be treated. We know that due to the spread of Phytophthora ramorum stands of larch are being felled across Scotland, yet this timber isn’t making it into the hands of those who need it. This is a problem that needs to be addressed.

As an agent for Wood-Mizer I sell a wide range of products, from the very small sawmills to the medium-sized mills, edgers and planer/moulders.

Last year, like everyone else, we thought sales would plummet, but when some people carried on working and others came back to work after lockdown, it got busy for us all. Our office was jumping with people needing spares and blades resharpened or enquiring about buying mills. We noticed people were looking to upgrade whatever mills they had, adding on other bits of kit like edgers and resaws as our customers went from ticking along to being very busy.

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A lot of the customers have been existing ones, upgrading to newer or bigger mills, as well as estate owners, farmers and tree surgeons.

We have also seen firewood suppliers buying mills as an add-on to their business as some of the timber they are getting in is millable, so they can supply sawn timber as well as firewood.

We were able to keep lead-in times quite reasonable last year, especially given the circumstances we were under. However, this year has been a lot more challenging. The factory in Poland where all our machinery is made has been flooded with orders as agents in other countries have been busy selling as well.

So, our lead times have now crept up quite considerably – but they are working hard over there, building and manufacturing the machines.

Brexit did give us a few headaches at the beginning of the year, making it difficult to get machines across in lorries, but after the first ones it got easier and there aren’t too many hold-ups now.

Despite all the challenges of the last 18 months, at least we can say sales have increased considerably.

DISCLAIMER: Our columns are a platform for writers to express their personal opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of the writers’ own organisations or Forestry Journal.

What do you think? Share your thoughts by emailing editor@forestryjournal.co.uk. Feedback will be published in a future issue.