By Roy Southey, executive director at Sawmilling South Africa

Good news for sawmillers is that on the 22nd February 2021 judgement was received from Judge Tolmays’s office in our case against the minister of Environmental Affairs Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF) with regard to section 9.5 of the regulations of the AQA. I am pleased to inform you that we were successful with the litigation and the DEFF will need to either delete or rewrite section 9.5 to exempt or exclude indirectly heated kilns from the regulations.

There is good news and bad for sawmillers in South Africa. Photo by Leon Louw

There is good news and bad for sawmillers in South Africa. Photo by Leon Louw

The State could still appeal the judgement and they have 10 working days in which to do so, if indeed they do decide to appeal, the case will go to the appeal courts and the matter could take up to another two years to reach conclusion (hai-bo, the legal system). We are fairly confident that the state will not follow this route but one never knows.

More good news is that the first container of South African pine that we sent to our partners at Wespine in Western Australia has arrived at their mill just outside Perth and the second container should be following in a matter of weeks. This is a very exciting project as not only does it expose our sawmills to another vibrant and large international market, but it will also assist those mills who do take part to upgrade their process and products.

In the past, the Australians used to look to the South African forest and forest product sector for ideas and guidance, and now it is us who are looking to Australia for assistance. It demonstrates what initiative and enthusiasm can achieve.

News from the local market is also good with all mills that we have spoken to reporting robust sales of structural timber. Last month I asked you if there was anyone who could shed light on why we were in this favourable position and I received a reply from an old sawmiller and experienced sales dog. He was of the opinion that the up-tick in the market was as a result of an increase in home alterations brought about by the lockdown. Also, he tells me that in his experience, once the formal market slows down, the informal market picks up. This, he says, is true of the total African market. How true this is only an old sales dog will know.

Another old sawmiller who spent the last 10 years or so before retirement in the furniture manufacturing sector, tells me that the country produces 15 000 to 17 000 bed bases alone per month, and that in his opinion the furniture sector is contributing.

One must not forget that some fairly large mills have also shut down or were slow to get up and running after lockdown, and this has had an effect on the supply and demand curve. However, whatever the reason, let us enjoy the demand and hopefully keep our mills producing at maximum.

Now for the bad news, many of you will know that Limpopo Lumber, the hardwood mill up at Politsi has had to close its doors as a result of a shortage of resources, and this has left our efforts to get the specification for Eucalyptus structural timber through the SABS without a champion.

We certainly hope that one of our hardwood millers will pick up the torch and see to it that Jane Tennant’s efforts don’t go to waste.

More sad news: I suspect that many of you read Professor Brian Bredenkamp’s regular newsletter, Foresters News / Bosbouersnuus about the comings and goings of foresters in South Africa , and will realise from his reports and stories that the personnel in the forestry and forest products sector are all getting older and scarcer and this in itself is sad news indeed.

What are we going to do to attract new young talent into our sector – especially sawmilling? I would welcome your ideas and opinions.