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Editorial: Look how far we’ve come

Industry braces for famine, but we can still celebrate the feast


June 20, 2019
By Maria Church
Maria Church

Covering Canada’s forest sector news has been a sad business over the past couple months.

As experts predicted, lumber prices are declining, log costs increasing, and, combined with U.S. softwood lumber duties, Canada’s mills are feeling the pinch. In B.C. this has led to planned downtime for major producers and for at least one mill – Tolko’s Quesnel sawmill – permanent closure.

As producers across Canada take a cautionary step back from the flurry of cap-ex projects seen over the past few growth years, this seems a good time to take stock of how far we’ve come as an industry through both feast and famine.

We’re not the only ones reflecting on this. In mid-May, Toronto-based independent think tank CD Howe Institute released a report dedicated to exploring the ways Canada’s forest sector is innovating to overcome industry barriers. Titled Branching Out: How Canada’s Forestry Products Sector is Reshaping its Future, author Eric Miller writes that external forces like U.S. protectionism and market uncertainty have challenged the sector to become an innovation leader.

“Today, Canada’s forest sector shows potential as a leader in innovation, environmental sustainability and international trade,” Miller said in a news release. His examples include tall wood buildings, wood-based bioproducts, and “sound forest management practices.” The report recommends continued government contributions to forestry research and carbon tax revenue support for forest management, adaption and utilization solutions. Check out the full report at www.cdhowe.org.

At CFI we are continually surveying the impressive ways sawmills across the country are rising to the challenge of doing more with less: getting more value out of each log; milling new species and products; and automating when labour is in short supply.

In the May/June 2019 issue, we highlighted just a couple of those companies and there are many more to come.

In early April CFI’s associate editor Ellen Cools drove out to Hines Creek, Alta. – five and a half-hours northwest of Edmonton – to visit family-owned Zavisha Sawmills. For 85 years the mill has been quietly adapting to whatever curveball came its way.

Mill manager Greg Zavisha says the past 15 years have been their most challenging with technology and automation rewriting the game.

Like most mills, Zavisha capitalized on the past couple years of market strength and has the laundry list of investments to prove it: a Mühlböck dry kiln with a heat recovery system, a six-inch curve saw from CAE, and a KARA Master portable sawmill that will be installed as a stationary saw for large logs.

The goal is to be as efficient as possible by getting the most out of mainly used equipment, Greg tells CFI. Read the mill profile here.

Over in Eastern Canada, EACOM is staying the course with its stated commitment to continuous improvement in spite of market downturn. The team recently completed a smooth installation of machine stress rating equipment at the Nairn Centre, Ont., random length sawmill, which is supplying EACOM’s recently acquired I-Joist manufacturing facility in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.

The project – carefully researched and then executed over a long weekend – came on the heels of a new auto grader installation. Both projects are examples of EACOM’s commitment to a “culture of continuous improvement,” Christine Leduc, EACOM’s director of public affairs, tells CFI.

It’s a culture they’re banking on for recruitment and retention.

“We’re confident that this is the kind of culture that will attract other people who want to join our team,” Leduc says. Read about the project here.

There are many more stories of innovation to come as CFI’s associate editor Ellen Cools and I hit the road this year, touring sawmills and logging sites from coast to coast, learning how both new and old companies took advantage of the past few years of market growth, and are now tightening their belts for the upcoming famine.

Bon appetite.