Australia’s largest hardwood timber manufacturer is accelerating production, now importing thirty or more 40-foot containers of American hardwoods monthly to compensate for locked-up Victorian hardwoods.
Known as “Glacial Oak”, the new American Oak (Q. rubra) is Australian Furniture Association Member, ASH’s solution to the Victorian native forest ban.
Instantly recognisable with its consistency and blond colouring, it is “the best solution for the vast majority of businesses in the ASH supply chain,” according to Vince Hurley, the Managing Director of Australian Sustainable Hardwoods (ASH).
The pivot to North America comes as the Victorian industry grapples with the ban on native forest harvesting – enforceable from January 1st, with the Heyfield-based ASH once reliant on harvested Victorian species to produce 520 cubic metres of timber a day.
And whilst reductions in hardwood supply started to hit supply chains in November last year, ASH’s supply of Victorian-grown Victorian Ash, Messmate, Silvertop Ash, Stringybark, and Wormy Chestnut has been shrinking for years.
That process began in 2017 when ASH lost half of its Vic Ash volume, and by last year, just 3% of its supply came from Victorian forests. This dwindling supply, a sort of “death by a thousand cuts”, prompted a major strategic rethink and private by ASH executives. The result was a new strategy with a focus on three key areas:
- Look after the company’s people
- Diversify the fibre input
- Have a greater emphasis on advanced manufacturing and tighten the supply chain to the end user.
But, he said, making a start was difficult, “we had no relationships in the US,” Mr Hurley told Phillip Hopkins, and “these could not be developed overnight,” with ASH working hard to establish its first ties with the US in 2019.
Closer to home, it also targeted greater use of plantation hardwoods in the Stzelecki Ranges – the site of Victoria’s largest investment in new plantations – managed by HVP, Victoria’s largest plantation forest manager.
“As it happens, we developed markets and products and a good supply of the US hardwood,” he said before adding that the decision to turbo-charge the US supply chain made the best business sense.
Victorian Decision Made: Now, ‘Let’s go!’
Once former Premier Andrews decided in May that local harvesting would cease, everything was in place – Glacial Oak, the produce out of the plantations; but “we just had to bump them up to cover what we were missing,” Mr Hurley said.
“Out of necessity, we put ourselves in a good position. With the closure announcement and the closure of Victorian hardwood supply, we have been able to ramp it up.”
Now, trucks from the Port of Melbourne laden with “Glacial Oak” are arriving at the ASH Heyfield facilities multiple times a day, symbolising the changing face of hardwood processing in Victoria – with Australian ports bursting with imports.
“We unload; we have an 85-tonne container forklift. We got it when we were exporting a lot; now we are importing a lot,” Mr Hurley said.
In the lead-up to the Victorian (and WA) ban, Wood Central revealed that Brazil was filling the void in the hardwood supply.
*Courtesy of WoodCentral