Wood processors are counting on a speedy return to harvesting next week so plants started up last week don't run out of feedstock.
Red Stag Timber, the country's largest processor, resumed processing last week using logs felled before the national covid-19 lockdown. That timber is destined for pallets and other packaging products deemed 'essential' for food processors and other exporters.
Chief executive Marty Verry said the new log supplies wouldn't arrive "a moment too soon" given the mill's current stock – brought in from felling sites – would probably be exhausted by the end of the week.
If logs didn't start arriving at the start of next week, many of the mills that had restarted would need to shut again, he said, wasting a lot of time and effort.
"We really do need those new logs that are due next week – and I don't mean the end of next week," he told BusinessDesk.
All the country's forestry harvesting was halted last month as the government worked to maximise the number of people kept at home to suppress the covid-19 outbreak.
Sawmills were shut nationwide and only plants making packaging and pallets for essential food, export and medical supplies were allowed to continue operating.
Last week, Forestry Minister Shane Jones allowed the resumption of some limited processing after a national stocktake showed some supplies would be exhausted by April 22.
As well as timber for pallets, shortages were also expected in wood supply for domestic heating in Canterbury, for wood pellet production for prisons and food processors and for woodchips for fuel and animal welfare in the central North Island.
Additional logs were also needed for Oji Fibre Solution's Kinleith plant, the only pulp and paper mill allowed to keep operating.
Oji's environment and external relations manager, Philip Millichamp, said fibre supplies were "still tight" but the firm was reasonably comfortable with supplies going into next week.
It is now working to get its Tasman plant at Kawerau and its Penrose mill in Auckland ready to resume operations. It is aiming to start that process at each site from next Tuesday when the lockdown is relaxed to level 3.
Millichamp said in the meantime the company would look to start installing the extra screening it has added in the operating areas of Kinleith at the other sites. A maintenance shutdown that was only partly completed at Tasman before the lockdown will also have to be completed.
Millichamp said the firm was well-positioned to roll out the distance-working and other covid-19 health measures required for the restart, given its experience at Kinleith and at its packaging plants which also remained open.
"We think we've got pretty good systems for keeping people safe and for tracing and things like that."
Red Stag's Verry said about 40 staff were working at the mill, compared with the more usual 350.
Once new feedstock is available the firm will move to one eight-hour shift daily with the aim of getting back to two shifts over about two weeks. The firm previously operated two 10-hour shifts daily.
Verry expects operations to be largely back to normal during the next two months, given strong demand in China and the volume of domestic building work that needs to be completed.
But he said demand in the second half of the year was much harder to pick, and would depend a lot on the extent of the weakness in overseas markets and how much local construction activity could be maintained.