Small is beautiful for northern mill owners

#BCForestFuture series: Nechako Lumber was B.C.'s first to sell lumber to Japan, and has led the way in dealing with mountain pine beetle

One of a series of articles on the future of the B.C. forest industry. You can find the rest of the series in the links below or by searching for the hashtag #BCForestFuture on Facebook or Twitter.

TOKYO – Which B.C. forest products company was first to sell two-by-fours to the picky buyers of Japan? How about high-grade wood pellets for home heating in Italy?

It was Nechako Lumber, a privately owned forest products company in the northwestern B.C. community of Vanderhoof, says CEO Alan Fitzpatrick. And he has other examples of where his small company with a timber supply of small trees blazed a trail for bigger producers to compete on the world stage.

Skinny pine trees turned out to have an advantage, Fitzpatrick said in an interview during the recent B.C. forest industry trade mission to Japan and China. Japanese builders have insisted on only the finest wood for centuries, and Nechako has long been a brand of choice.

“Even though the pine is a small profile, it’s literally old growth pine,” he said. “The rings are very close together. They could be 120-year-old trees but only six inches wide, so they make a very good product with very little twist or bow, for the Japanese market.”

Milling small logs had its own challenges, leading the company to refine its sawmill and planer operations. But the results were good enough that every piece of prime lumber they produced was selling to Japan.

When the B.C. Interior was hit with the biggest mountain pine beetle epidemic on record, Nechako improved its optical log scanning to cut dry wood while avoiding the cracks that weaken dimensional lumber. A planer that pulls dry lumber through rather than pushing it and causing breakage also helped the operation’s efficiency.

“As far as we know, and we check once a year or so, it’s the fastest planer in the world,” Fitzpatrick said. “We’ve had visits from New Zealand, Japan, China, taking a look at our technology.”

Nechako dispensed with its beehive burner two decades ago, using bark as fuel for its dry kiln and chips and sawdust for pellets. Its subsidiary Premium Pellet was one of the first biofuel pellet producers in North America, and recently won certification to supply home heating pellets for Italy.

They must be bark and dust-free, for consistent feeding and clean burning in pellet stoves. Lower-grade pellets are sold to European industry to reduce their coal consumption.

It’s been one shock after the other for the B.C. forest industry, from pine beetle to the U.S. housing market collapse to the latest round of American trade action. Sales to China carried B.C. producers through the financial crisis that hit in 2009, mostly lower-grade lumber to use for concrete forms. Now China is beginning infill wall construction for large buildings to cut concrete use, and building resorts with the western look of engineered wood.

“That’s why these trade missions are so important,” Fitzpatrick said. “In Japan, it’s important for industry to lead and the [forests] ministry to support. But in the China markets it’s the exact opposite. The government leads and we support them. It’s just a difference in culture.”

B.C. Forests Minister Steve Thomson (left), deputy minister Tim Sheldan, Nechako Lumber CEO Alan Fitzpatrick and B.C. Asia trade representative Ben Stewart tour a wood infill wall project at Nanjing Tech University, China, Dec. 4, 2016.

Just Posted

Caps improve to 3-0

Lynn and Arquiett score two each as Caps double up Chiefs

Carving in Cowichan provided road to recovery for stroke victim

“I didn’t know if I’d be able to get out of bed or walk, let alone carve”

Sarah Simpson Column: Use your smarts to slow down early holidays

It’s Friday the 13th. There’s a full moon. A rabid bat is… Continue reading

Island pair helps BC to baseball title

Cowichan’s Ella Duncan-Reda and Oak Bay’s Tess Sawkins integral to provincial success

VIDEO: Vancouver Island mayor details emergency response after fatal bus crash

Sharie Minions says she is ‘appalled’ by condition of road where bus crashed

UVic president offers condolences after two students killed in bus crash

‘We also grieve with those closest to these members of our campus community,’ Cassels says

Coming Home: B.C. fire chief and disaster dog return from hurricane-ravaged Bahamas

The pair spent roughly one week on Great Abaco Island assisting in relief efforts

Newcomer Ferland lines up with sniper Pettersson as Vancouver Canucks camp opens

Ferland provides more depth and a scoring threat up front, Pettersson says

Intelligence official charged seemed to be ‘exemplar of discretion’: UBC professor

Professor Paul Evans says he served on Cameron Ortis’s doctoral dissertation committee

B.C. police watchdog to investigate man’s head injury during RCMP arrest

Suspect fled on a bicycle and fell off when an officer attempted to stop him

Nanaimo company gets licence to test psychedelic drugs for therapy treatment

Salvation Botanicals interested in manufacturing, testing and research and development

‘A real shame’: B.C. MLA says factors behind Tolko mill closing should have been caught

Kelowna-Mission MLA Steve Thomson said the industry is in bad shape across the province

VIDEO: Seniors at B.C. assisted living facility shocked by Oct. 1 eviction notice

Building owners terminate lease for McGuire Lake Congregate Living in Salmon Arm

Most Read