Timber industry warns of continuing shortages

Imported timber being unloaded at a UK dock (Image courtesy of SCA Wood UK)

The Timber Trade Federation (TTF) is advising all timber users and buyers to talk to their suppliers to shore up their purchasing strategies.

The timber supply chain has been affected in 2020 by pandemic-related issues as well as changes in market dynamics, with high levels of global demand for timber and wood products

TTF says that tight timber supply conditions will continue “certainly into Q2 2021, if not longer”.

Early in the pandemic many European sawmills were temporarily shut. Lockdowns across the UK and Europe then produced a surge in demand for timber for DIY and garden projects, which began to impact supplies through to Britain’s construction sector.

Additional high demand for structural timbers, particularly CLS and carcassing, from across Europe and especially from the USA, has also affected the amount of material available in traditionally well-stocked markets such as the UK builders’ merchant sector, TTF said.

With demand continuing, there has been no ‘quiet season’ in Britain’s building trade and thus little opportunity for sawmillers and importers to replenish stocks.

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A recent spike in Covid-19 cases in Sweden, the UK’s largest source of timber, has resulted in a tightening of operating conditions and delays where vessel crews are required to self-isolate.

Then there are the well-reported problems with import logistics as Brexit transition period ends. New arrangements with the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland may add further pressures on supplies, TTF says, as the timber sector will need to compete with many other industries in obtaining road haulage capacity within the UK.

To ensure available material is distributed equitably, many federation members are continuing to operate on customer allocations. Volumes are likely to be available but on much longer lead times than previously. Merchants, manufacturers and building contractors are advised tell suppliers their future needs. Companies can no longer expect to get what they need through just-in-time buying, the TTF said.

“Pre-Covid, timber buyers were used to their being plentiful landed stocks available to meet immediate demand,” said TTF chief executive David Hopkins. “Suppliers were also used to having time over traditionally quite periods in the trade to re-build stocks for the following season. This situation has now been turned on its head. It is understandable that many customers should be surprised by, and angry about, the new reality we are facing together. The reported price inflation has also made it difficult for some manufacturers to accurately price projects for customers.

“We would like to reassure the wider sector that volume supplies are available, though on much longer lead times than we have all been used to. This situation will be with us well into 2021 so we advise contacting your suppliers to discuss meeting your needs for the year ahead. The challenge going forward will be to achieve the balanced product mix needed by the market, a factor which may be further complicated by the haulage demands and new customs and plant health procedures engendered by Brexit.”

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