The forestry sector is worth €2.2 billion to the Irish economy each year and there is still room for considerable growth, Murray Timber Group’s John Ryan tells Lorraine O’Hanlon.
Anyone passing by Galway Harbour last month might have been surprised to see a shipment of logs being delivered.
While Ireland is known for its '40 shades of green', the country is experiencing a wood supply shortage at the moment, prompting local group Murray Timber Group (MTG) to source timber for their products elsewhere.
The logs shipment was also a first for Galway Harbour, which has only had shipments of pulp and processed timber through the port in the past.
It’s a sign of things to come for both the harbour and MTG, with the Ballygar-based forestry company already taking a second log delivery just last week.
And, MTG sees itself importing more timber this month, according to Forestry Manager John Ryan, who says the company hopes to continue using Galway Harbour into the future and would love to see the planned development of the port proceed.
The logs brought through Galway came from Scotland and their import is in response to demand for MTG’s produce, as well as the lack of available Irish timber. As well as importing logs, MTG purchases timber from State-sponsored natural resources company Coillte and private growers in Ireland, with Mr Ryan hopeful that the private sector is going to build in the coming years.
According to the Irish Forestry and Forest Products Association (IFFPA), some 46 per cent of the Irish forest estate was privately owned in December 2012. “If the private sector rises and we can buy our material at home, it would certainly help,” says Mr Ryan.
Despite current supply issues, it’s clear that growth is being experienced across the forestry sector; profits at State-sponsored natural resources company Coillte, which employs around 1,000 people, increased by some 69 per cent last year. The total value of the forestry and forest products sector to the Irish economy is estimated at €2.2 billion, with close to 12,000 employed in the area.
Mr Ryan envisages growth in private forestry employment in future but warns of a possible shortage of skilled operators for forestry vehicles, such as harvesters and forwarders. He suggests that partnerships between industry and educational institutes or training bodies could potentially prove useful in addressing this issue.
MTG currently employs around 160 people directly in its processing facilities at Ballygar, Co. Galway and Ballon, Co. Carlow and the same again indirectly. The logs imported from Scotland will now be processed here and the products used in the Irish construction industry and, potentially, in the UK.
Despite difficulties in the domestic market, Irish manufactured forest products continued to perform well in export markets in recent years, according to the IFFPA, with 78 per cent of the forest products produced in Ireland in 2012 exported. Some €303 million worth of forest products, including wood-based panels and sawn timber, were exported from Ireland that year.
During the slowdown in the Irish construction market, business across the Irish Sea in the UK, thankfully, remained strong for MTG, according to Mr Ryan. The company has worked hard to develop its export market by investing in its processing facilities, which are capable of processing in excess of 1,000,000 m3 of logs annually. And there remains potential for further exports to other EU countries, with MTG previously supplying to Belgium and France. Irish wood products have a strong reputation abroad, according to Mr Ryan.
“The customer feedback has been great,” he says.
Part of the appeal of wood products is sustainability and MTG launched its Sustainable Natural Resource (SNR) brand back in 2008 to emphasise the benefit to the environment of using ‘carbon neutral’ timber.
With green shoots now appearing in the Irish market also, Mr Ryan is hopeful that it will pick up further in the coming years. Activity in the construction sector has risen continuously since September 2013, according to the latest Ulster Bank Construction Purchasing Managers’ Index, and MTG is seeing strong demand in both the fencing and construction areas already this year. The company has seen an increase in sales in 2014, and business is “very busy at the moment”, says Mr Ryan.
For more details on Murray Timber Group, visit www.mtg.ie.