Forestry industry hopeful

Forestry players are sounding a cautiously optimistic economic note for South Otago as the industry emerges from Covid-19 lockdown.

Pan Pac Forest Products employs about 440 staff and 450 contractors nationwide, of whom about 50 work directly and indirectly for its Milburn sawmill in Clutha.

Pan Pac was permitted to resume operations under strict guidelines when Level 3 restrictions began last week.

Under Level 4, the Otago arm of its business lost about 10% of its annual production, managing director Tony Clifford said.

‘‘We produced just over 90,000cum in the last financial year, so we’ve lost approximately 9000cum of production and sales.’’

Short-term orders for the firm were buoyant, potentially due to recent supply deficits.

‘‘For the rest of this year, the way in which global economies recover from Covid-19 will be key in defining demand.’’

Operations manager Blair Watson believed Clutha as a whole could bounce back economically as restrictions were lifted.

‘‘There’s a solid blend of business and employment sectors to help cushion the regional effect of the Covid-19 lockdown, so Clutha should emerge quite well,’’ he said.

Mr Clifford said sawmill staff remained ‘‘supported’’ during the lockdown.

They were able to perform limited duties.

However, contractors in Pan Pac’s log supply chain and engineering services could not operate, and did not receive any income.

‘‘We’re really pleased now to be able to get them back to work safely.’’

Forestry Owners Association president Phil Taylor echoed those sentiments, and said long-term prospects for the industry remained positive.

‘‘This initial phase of picking back up has gone well, which is a testament to the professionalism within the industry.

‘‘It’s still a watching brief as far as continuing demand goes, but we remain optimistic about the medium to longer-term prospects for our members.’’

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