Market Forces of Fiber

Sharing information, ideas and, in this particular case, challenges and precautionary words, is important to the success of the wood pellet industry as a whole.
By Anna Simet | May 31, 2019

Oftentimes, our writers begin interviews with confidence about the conclusions they’ll reach when finishing a story, but once in a while, things turn out quite differently. A good example of this is my page-20 feature, “Fiber Factors,” which was an interesting journey from start to finish. The idea for the story began last fall when I was made aware of the potential impact of Chinese hardwood lumber tariffs, and after hearing about it several more times up until a couple of month ago, I decided to pursue it. To say the least, I was surprised at what I learned from the wood pellet producers willing to chat with me. I discovered the real story is not in the tariffs alone; rather, that issue plus a culmination of factors that could very well impact fiber supply and price for a swathe of domestic market pellet manufacturers.

To be clear, those with whom I spoke are by no means insinuating there might be a product shortage next season. When we get into the issue of fiber and sourcing challenges, we have to be cautious not to induce any kind of fear in consumers that they might not be able to get their product when they need it—that makes sense. But sharing information, ideas and, in this particular case, challenges and precautionary words, is important to the success of the industry as a whole. What I heard several times throughout interviews—and many times even before this story—is that if pellet users bought product year-round or early on, it could make a difference. The question is: How do we get the the word out, and explain it in a simplified way?

Moving on in this issue centered on feedstock logistics, in Senior Editor Ron Kotrba’s page-14 feature, “Saving a Sawmill,” finding a new, smart way to draw value from its residue was key for the survival Skeena Sawmill when its previous buyer, a local pulp mill, closed. The mill was a long distance from any potential new buyer—too long to make economic sense. “There is a high cost to transport it that far or to landfill it,” Roger Keery, vice president of operations for Skeena Sawmill and president of Skeena Bioenergy, told Kotrba. “We looked at a number of alternatives and we concluded that a pellet mill would be the best choice …the sawmilling business is very challenging in this area. This pellet plant was the first major capital investment in our operations, and the first major step to changing Skeena’s future.”

In these times where fiber sourcing is largely misconstrued by environmental groups and the media, and not well understood by consumers, these are the kinds of stories our industry needs to highlight. How many pellet consumers know their product was made from waste sawdust from lumber operations, for example, rather than a tree cut down and ground up for the sole purpose of pellet production?

We here at Pellet Mill Magazine write for the industry, but in the current age of social media, we know our reach extends far beyond just pellet plants. We’ll keep spreading the word while you share your thoughts and ideas with us, because without the passion, gumption and determination of this industry’s stakeholders, we wouldn’t have any stories to tell.

Author: Anna Simet