A downturn in the Northland forestry sector is starting to bite, with harvesting crews losing their jobs and Northport experiencing a significant decrease in logs stockpiled for export.
Last week's delivered log volume at the deepwater port at Marsden Pt was 33 per cent below what's normal at this time of the year while February's export total was 200,000 tonnes compared with a previously-forecasted 225,000 tonnes.
The port has been receiving an average of 8100 tonnes of logs a day over the past 10 days.
Lack of space in Chinese ports, plummeting log prices, large volume of European spruce shipped into China, and the coronavirus threat have brought a virtual halt to New Zealand log exports to the country.
Northport spokesman Peter Heath said a drop in log volumes would have a knock-on effect in the second quarter of 2020.
As of yesterday, 147,000 tonnes of wood was stockpiled at Northport which has a total capacity of 250,000 tonnes.
"Uncertainty is leading to daily decisions, and changes in decisions, by exporters. It is unlikely logs will be stockpiled long-term due to phytosanitary requirements."
Phytosanitary measures are measures put in place for the control of plant diseases.
"We have contingency areas that can be used for log storage but this depends on other cargo volumes.
"Ship traffic continues, with such log exports as have already been arranged, but we are seeing a decrease in the number of log ships arriving at Northport," he said.
Heath said no ships have been turned away.
Whangārei twins Joel and Tyson Niha are scraping by with farm work after their job as tree fellers became surplus to requirement about three weeks ago.
It's not known how many forestry workers in Northland have been laid off but the Forestry Owners Association said there has been layoffs of skilled workers.
The association expects the market to take months to recover and forestry workers impacted by the downturn are turning to silvicultural work until replanting starts in May or June.
After losing their jobs, the Niha brothers contacted their previous employer Forest Protection Services for potential work fighting bush fires in Australia but that fell through after a deluge caused flooding in once fire-ravaged areas.
"It would have been good to go over and work in Australia than staying here because that would have paid our bills. You don't realise the difficult situation you face until you get no money," said Joel, a father of three.
He said there were a lot of forestry workers in Northland with much larger families that were without jobs.
They have been working for five to six small contractors for the past eight years.
Nearly four million tonnes of logs were harvested from Northland forests last year which was 10.8 percent of the almost 36m tonnes cut down nationally.
Of the 4m tonnes, 2.3m tonnes were exported while the rest was for the domestic market.
Log exports to China were worth $2.7 billion for New Zealand for the year ending December 2019.
Hancock Forest Management has reduced production and crews are working four-day weeks but all continue to be employed.
The company account for about 25 per cent of Northland's forestry harvest.
General manager Kerry Ellem said about 55 per cent of Hancock's harvest was supplied to Northland wood processors and the balance destined for the offshore market, with China being the largest export destination by volume of around 70 per cent.
"This balance between our domestic and export supply chains is helping to reduce the impact on our contracted harvesting crews.
"While we do not have direct control over employment matters relating to the contracted harvesting crews, we have been working very closely with all our contractors to minimise the impact as much as possible," he said.
Another Northland forestry contractor Steven Stokes employs 45 people and has not had to lay off anyone so far.
He has crews felling trees in Taranaki, Auckland, Moerewa and in Houto.
"We're operating at 85 per cent but we've luckily managed to retain all our staff because we're working for a lot of domestic suppliers. I think it will take another six months at least for the Chinese market to improve."
Stokes said he knew forestry crew in Northland that have recently been laid off and with Carter Holt Harvey's impending closure of its Whangārei plant, things were not looking good.
Northland log stats:
* 3.89 million tonnes harvested for the domestic and overseas market last year
* Northport receiving on average 8100 tonnes a day
* Northport's log stockpile capacity is 250,000 tonnes
* Hancock Forest Management accounts for about 25 per cent of Northland forestry harvest