Hardwood log exports more than tripled in 2015

Australia’s hardwood log exports rose to 315.8 km3 for the year-ended December 2015, up a massive 356.4% on the prior year. In total, Australia’s log exports (Softwood and Non-coniferous) have posted successive records month after month in 2015, culminating in total exports reaching 3,303,200m3 for 2015, up 32.4% on the prior year. 

The regularly discussed news focus is on softwood log exports and the absolute volumes being exported. However, the recent growth story is in hardwood log exports.

The chart below displays Australia’s total roundwood exports since January 2012.


To go straight to the dashboard and take a closer look at the data, click here.

The progressive lift in year-end log exports can plainly be seen, but most remarkable is the export volume for December 2015. An obvious all-time record, exports amounted to 420,400 m3, made up of 362,500 m3 (86.2%) of softwood logs and 57,900m3 (13.6%) of hardwood logs. For softwood logs, the export volume was a record, while for hardwood logs, the result was only beaten by the prior month.

As the chart below shows, hardwood log exports have gone from sporadic, through almost non-existent, to rapidly growing over the last four years.


To go straight to the dashboard and take a closer look at the data, click here.

It is important and perhaps critical to consider the drivers for this rapidly expanded trade. Australia’s hardwood logs (and its softwood logs for that matter) are not being exported as pulpwood, in some proxy for woodchip exports. Their solid wood properties, especially when peeled for veneers to manufacture plywood and engineered wood products are the driver for exports. The strength characteristics of Australian hardwoods makes them especially attractive.

Coupled with the capacity of veneer plants to peel very small small-end diameter (SED) logs on chuckless lathes and the desirability of Australia’s hardwood logs is explained. 

The chart below shows that demand is entirely in China.


To go straight to the dashboard and take a closer look at the data, click here.

Unfortunately, state level export data is unavailable and it is thus difficult to determine the proportions of plantation and native forest logs involved in exports. Some of the volume is definitely from hardwood plantations and may include hardwood plantation thinnings, as well as mature logs.

Regardless of which hardwood logs are being exported, Australia’s exports have grown in value, largely in line with the growth in export volumes. Although export volumes were up more than 350%, the value of exports to the year-ended December 2015 rose just 133.8% over the same period. The implication is that at lower average prices, the logs now being exported are of significantly lower value than those of a year earlier. In December 2015, the average hardwood log export price was just AUDFob144.45/m3. A year earlier, the average was AUDFob329.17/m3.

Sustainability of the harvest that supports this level of roundwood exports – both softwood and hardwood – and booming woodchip exports is a topic that will doubtless be on the mind of many in the sector, in coming months.