The timber industry is scrambling to meet a surge in demand for wooden fence posts as farmers try to rebuild from disaster.
Farmers across the country are facing the long and expensive task of re-fencing properties to protect crops and manage stock.
However, those who rely on wooden fence posts may have to wait a year or longer for more posts.
Timber processors already had a 12-month wait list before the fires caused widespread damage to the country’s fences.
Timber processor Roundwood Solutions’ managing director Steve Telford estimated rural areas would need 35 million posts.
“We could triple our production if we could access the [wood] fibre.”
Why wooden posts?
While many farmers use steel posts, some use wooden posts because they last better in certain areas.
AgKi represents farmers on Kangaroo Island, which was recently devastated by fire.
Chair and Kangaroo Island farmer Rick Morris has 19 kilometres of boundary fences and 36 kilometres of internal fences to replace after fire tore through his property.
He said due to a lack of timber posts he may have to cut corners and use cheaper fence posts.
Mr Morris said that meant he would likely have to re-do his fencing again in a few years, making an already expensive job even more costly.
“It’s obviously a very time consuming and expensive exercise to get the fence you require,” he said.
“That can cost $8,000 to $10,000 a kilometre and I just want to do it once and do it properly and not touch it again for 30 years.”
YP Ag sells agricultural supplies to farmers on South Australia’s Yorke Peninsula, including fencing.
Commercial manager Corey Wildash said the demand for fencing was “unbelievable”.
“[Fire-affected farmers] will certainly be getting boundary fences done as quick as they can, but for their internal fences they could be waiting up to six to 12 months I think.”
Big order to fill
Timber processors take logs from the plantation companies and refine them into fence posts, which are then sent to treatment plants.
Roundwood Solutions produces roughly 2.5 million posts per year but in January alone they have had more than $1 million worth of orders.
Mr Telford said it was not as simple as just ordering more logs from the plantations.
“We’ve tried to find price points [for the timber] … but then they’ll also supply it in a different form which you don’t have the infrastructure to process,” he said.
“We’ve taken that all on board and we’re looking at building a new mill to be able to handle timber the way they want to supply it … but all of these things take a lot of time and investment.”
Not every tree works
Timberlands is a major plantation company in the Green Triangle region covering parts of South Australia and Victoria.
Regional manager Alan Rossouw said forestry companies could not easily increase production because they needed to ensure a sustainable, long-term supply of logs into the Australian market.
“In terms of ramping up production, we’ll do what we can to assist with shortages … we do have to be careful with making sure we do have a long-term supply into the market,” he said.
Moreover, Mr Rossouw said only some trees were suitable for fence posts and they tended to be younger trees.
“Not every tree is suitable for fence posts and the post is only a small part of the tree that we harvest,” he said.
He said they wee working with local processors to see if increased production was possible.