FOBIA project team with a group of Irish stakeholders gathered at Waterford in February to discuss ongoing issues, especially contracting in wood harvesting and expectations for the project.

William Houlihan, a harvesting contractor with 30 years’ experience, expressed the limitations faced by the contractors; short-time contracts, challenges in funding investment, difficulties of starting new harvesting businesses, and low profitability for small companies, especially when tendering for contracts offered by big customers. On the other hand, it is becoming more common to negotiate directly with the forest owners. So there is room also for education of forest owners in Ireland as they mostly have farming background.

William Houlihan. Photo: Frans Johansson, SE.

Contractors wish more structured and transparent supply chain. At the moment, measurements recorded by harvesters are not accepted to back up wood payment in Ireland, and small contractors do not have control of the rest of the supply chain, especially transportation. Some of the contractors find that the figures obtained from the harvester do not match up the volumes received at the customer’s weighbridge. It was suggested the use of a third party to measure and audit the timber delivered at the mills.

In addition, the need for collaboration and organisation  was discussed during the meeting. A harvesting contractor association existed in the 1990s. However, due to the market and the high competition for harvesting contracts, the majority of harvesting companies decided not to associate.

William has formal training in mechanics and electrics, skills he finds very helpful when running the harvesting operations. Yet most harvesting companies need training, especially on business management skills; therefore, he welcomes FOBIA’s initiative. He foresees a good future for the Irish forestry sector with forecasted increase of roundwood volume from private forests. However, a better organised and transparent industry is paramount.

Greetings from the Nordic colleagues

Anna Björk from Swedish Association of Forestry Entrepreneurs (Skogsentreprenörerna) presented the business management system available to their members. This system currently implemented by 120 companies in northern Sweden includes administrative tools that help companies to comply with certification and national regulation. It also includes corporate and employer responsibility, working environment, environmental competences, health and safety, and other topics. Among other things, the discussion revolved around the benefits of these services to small harvesting companies.

Anna Björk fron Skogsentreprenörerna. Photo: Frans Johansson, SE.

Timo Makkonen from The Trade Association of Finnish Forestry and Earth Moving contractors (Koneyrittäjien Liitto) presented the forest contractors online databank. This databank aims at assessing and improving harvesting productivity as “…Productivity rises when you start following productivity”. The databank offers reports on productivity and fuel consumption. It also provides figures for benchmarking productivity. The audience, specially harvesting contractors, welcomed this initiative, as they are interested in comparing their productivity with a national average. The opportunities and limitations of these data, as well as issues related to data ownership and GDPR were also discussed.

What’s next in FOBIA?

At the moment operator audits are done in Finland and in Ireland, and experiences from them as well as introduction to the concept of audits will be presented in our next newsletter in May.  We’ll have also new results from the characterisation of forest harvesting sector in Finland, Ireland Scotland, and Sweden. Stay tuned and subscribe to our newsletter to get the latest information!