The Austrian wood industry has been severely impacted by the climate and corona crisis in 2020 which created difficult market conditions for companies.
The spring was marked by enormous drought. 2020 was once again one of the warmest years in Austrian measurement history, but summer brought the necessary precipitation for the forests – a short break for forest and forest owners.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the corona crisis hit the entire wood supply chain. In lockdown one, there was a decline in production in the sawmill, paper and board industries with negative effects on primary production. The demand for domestic fresh wood fell and the prices fell massively. Difficult reprocessing conditions and labor shortages due to the lockdown did the rest. From May 2020 things started to pick up again, at least for the market partners. The Austrian sawmill industry was able to resume operations and has been experiencing an upward trend since then, while roundwood production hasn’t improved that much
The corona crisis also had an unexpected effect on the forest as a leisure and recreational area. In times of exit and travel restrictions, significantly more people flock to the forests in search of relaxation and exercise. This increasingly disrupted the forest and forest work.
In 2020, the total Austrian wood harvest was around 16.4 million cubic meters (2019: 18.9 million cubic meters). The precipitation in summer brought some relief to the bark beetle calamities. This halved the amount of damaged wood in 2020 compared to the previous year to 5.8 million sm3 (2019: 11.7 million sm3). Due to the drop in prices, many forest owners who were not affected by calamities have withdrawn from the market. At the beginning of 2020 – i.e. before the COVID-19 pandemic – there was still a slight upward trend in softwood sawlog prices (January / February 2020: € 75.6 / m3), but wood prices dropped with the onset of the corona crisis and reached a record low of € 61.3 / m3 in summer 2020. Only at the end of 2020 were positive price signals recognizable again.
“The annual average price in 2020 for softwood logs was 68.8 euros per cubic meter, which is a 30 percent price reduction compared to the prices from mid-2014. In the 3rd quarter of 2020, the sawlog price index was below the 100 percent mark for the first time since 2009. One ray of hope is that prices have increased slightly since the 4th quarter of 2020, the order books of the sawmill industry are full and the industry has announced major investments, ”explains Felix Montecuccoli, President of Land & Forst Betriebe Austria.
In 2020 Austria imported a total of 12.06 million cubic meters of raw wood. The main importing countries were the Czech Republic and Germany. At the same time, softwood sawn timber exports fell by around 2.5%. The corona crisis had a major impact in some countries, but this was offset again in the middle of the year. In the previous main export market, Italy, exports fell by 9.4%. This was offset by increased exports to Germany (+ 13%) and the USA (+ 26%). A total raw wood import of 12.06 million cubic meters and a total raw wood export of 0.63 million cubic meters results in a net raw wood import 2020 of 11.43 million cubic meters.
In addition, the President of Land & Forst Betriebe Austria calls for tax relief instead of a burden for forestry: “Taxes and levies must be financeable from income. Forestry will remain bad business and should nonetheless provide diverse services for the environment and society. Those who manage forests in the future will have an income from work, but a very low rate of return on their assets. Taxes and duties must be financially feasible from income and not from the substance.
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