Long-lasting drought, extreme weather events, increasing social demands and difficult market conditions make it difficult for forestry companies in Austria to survive economically. Climate change brought new record amounts of damaged wood, increasing number of insect pests, forest fires and drought damage in 2019. The emerging coronavirus crisis will exacerbate these problems in 2020.
In 2019, the total Austrian timber harvest was 18.9 million solid meters, which is 1.5% less than in 2018. However, climate change is reflected in a record amount of damaged timber of 11.7 million cubic meters. This consists of:
- 4.9 million m3 (primarily) bark beetle wood. The main areas of damage are the Waldviertel and Mühlviertel.
- 6.8 million m3 of storm, ice and snow damage. This is mainly in Tyrol, Salzburg, Styria and Carinthia.
The forced harvest of trees that are not yet ready for cutting also jeopardizes the generational contract, as these are missing in later years.
The situation in the neighboring countries is similar to even more dramatic and leads to enormous market and price pressure.
Austria imported a total of 11.1 million cubic meters of raw wood in 2019. The main importing countries were the Czech Republic and Germany. Above all, the import increases from the Czech Republic stand out by 15% and a fourfold increase in imports from Italy due to large winds in 2018. 0.9 million cubic meters of raw wood were exported.
The average annual price for sawmill sawn timber fell in 2019 from € 85.6 to € 74.4 / m3 in 2018, continuing its downward trend. “We need prices at the level from 2013 to 2015 of € 90 / m3 and more in order to be able to operate sustainably. Today we are 30% below it. In the past three years, domestic forest owners have suffered damage of around € ½ billion. And another hundred million euros are expected for this year, too, ”emphasizes Felix Montecuccoli, President of Land & Forst Betriebe Österreich, during the traditional business press conference – in online format – about the seriousness of the situation.
In January 2020, bark beetles were already spotted in the Austrian forests. Drought, heat, lack of rainfall, insect pests and the associated challenges such as increased costs for afforestation, forest maintenance, falling prices, product range shifts, unprecedented market saturation and difficult working conditions lead to considerable losses for a large number of companies. And now, due to the coronavirus crisis, there is a shortage of labor, a decline in demand, more difficult processing conditions and additionally lower wood prices.
Montecuccoli presented three approaches:
- National collaboration of the wood value chain in Austria as a commitment to local raw materials and against climate change
- A forest rescue pact should include a forest rescue fund (€ 1 billion for three years), logistics measures and support, rapid approval and financing of wet storage facilities, an immediate extension of the Biomass Funding Act and the rapid implementation of the Renewable Energy Sources Act , the possibility of alternative land use for the generation of renewable energy and a tax relief for agriculture and forestry.
- European coordination of measures and aid is equally important
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