The industry needs private forest owners to cover the lack of timber

Private forest ownership is becoming more and more important to the Swedish forest industry and the trade balance. The reason is that the big forest companies and state-owned Sveaskog have felled a lot of older forest on their own lands in recent years. The situation is different for private forest owners, who have timber to supply. This year’s SkogsElmia proves that Elmia is providing the meeting place for a dialogue.

In a debate article in spring 2019, Sveaskog’s former chairman of the board, Bo Dockered, warned that the company has felled the older forest that the next generation would have needed. The situation is similar in the forests owned by the major corporate players. In its 2018 annual report, SCA reported that it is countering a low proportion of older forest with a major investment in planting and fertilising, adding: “When the younger forests reach felling age in a couple of decades, the rate of felling can increase.”

No general timber scarcity

The picture is emerging of a dip in the timber supply, while at the same time other players are reserving the forests for new products and services, ranging from tourism to liquid biofuels and textiles.

However, currently there is no general scarcity of timber in Sweden. The private forest owners have forest holdings that are already contributing to the forest industry’s need for raw material. As an example, 88 percent of the felling volumes in the southern part of Sweden (Götaland and Svealand) come from private forest owners. (Source: Skogsdata 2017).

Kerstin Dafnäs is a business economist with international experience. She represents an increasingly common type of forest owner: women who have jobs in a town or city. She also chairs a network for women forest owners called Spillkråkan. As a new forest owner, she encountered a market where the raw material suppliers – the private forest owners – did not receive a full share of the profits from the processing chain.

“Financial sustainability is a prerequisite for the forests to be harvested in a socially and environmentally sustainable way,” she says.

For the individual forest owner, their forest also contains other values, such as nature conservancy, recreational value, hunting grounds and alternative income sources. It is not self-evident that Sweden’s 320,000 private forest owners are interested in helping out the big forestry companies with the timber that they need.

The meeting place where everyone gathers

At SkogsElmia and its global forestry fair cousin, Elmia Wood, many visitors are private forest owners. They range from owners looking for contracting services to self-managing owners who are also seeking other sources of income from the forest, such as producing firewood and doing their own sawing and planing. Only one-third of Sweden’s private forest owners belong to a forest owners association. Forestry fairs are therefore one of the few occasions when timber buyers, contractors, machinery manufacturers and others can access many of them.

The question is: what should the industry do to access the timber stocks and growth that the private forest owners can offer?

“The timber buyers must be prepared to share more of the processing value and to increase the transparency of their business deals,” Kerstin Dafnäs responds.

The future will reveal what the timber supply for various purposes will be. But what is certain is that Elmia, as an organiser of international forestry fairs, will continue to provide high-quality meetings and promote the further development of the forest industry.