Buzz Lein Writes About : Prosperity, November 7, 1973
Prosperity in Northwestern Ontario is directly dependent on the availability of wood fibre. Without it, there would be a dramatic and catastrophic change in the economic climate. There would be no Marathon, Terrace Bay would vanish, Red Rock would again be a section house, Thunder Bay would assume depression status, Dryden would be a ghost town.
Wood fibre isn’t of any use until such a time as it has been torn apart and put back together again in a commercially desirable form, whether it be Kraft paper of grocery bags, bleached pulp for further processing or two by four’s for construction purposes. It is this tearing apart and putting together again that is the heart of Northwestern Ontario ‘s economic prosperity.
Trees have to be cut down, limbed and cut into manageable sized logs. Logs have to be transported to the place of utilization and every step of the way there are costs added to costs until by the time a log gets to a mill its value has augmented from nothing to a considerable something. And, of all the labour required to move wood from stump to the mill, 65% of it is used in cutting the tree down, taking the limbs off it, moving it out to a road, and cutting it up into logs that are to be hauled away. The cost of woods’ labour in Northwestern Ontario Is reported to be the highest in the world, so that when this is related to the labour content of tree processing, it has a very sad effect on the profit margins that the wood fibre processor must have.
And, it is this profit margin which pays for increased sales taxes, wages, all Government socialized benefits, increases in transportation, increases in the cost of raw material of all kinds. For some mystifying reason, Canadians still think they get all these things for nothing and from huge profit laden companies with head offices in Utopia.
It is an axiom that the hungry wolf runs the fastest and the farthest. Because companies need more fibre than manual labour can (or will) produce, means must be found to augment the manual methods of harvesting with mechanical methods. And, it is only when all wood fibre users get into a short labour supply situation that an effort will be made to run farther and faster in the direction of mechanical harvesting. It is also sadly true that they will be all running in different directions and over different length courses.
The need for mechanical harvesters is imperative, urgent and here now. Wood fibre producers have to mechanize or they are not going to survive. It is as simple as that. And, they no longer have years and years to develop these machines.
The importance of having more and better harvesting equipment in the woods is more than obvious. This equipment is a survival kit for wood fibre producers if they are to maintain their economic well being. If this same equipment can be developed and made in Canada, then it will help our Canadian economy.
It looks very much as if what is ahead is a lack of fibre for the mills. This lack will come about in two ways. One will be a lack of reserve fibre available and there isn’t much that can be done about this. The other lack will be due to an inability to supply the machinery and people needed to harvest the crop. It doesn’t make any difference to a machine whether or not the trees are numerous, scarce, tall, short, limby, branchy, or anything else. It will do exactly as its operator directs. Yet all these things have an effect, usually adverse, on the production of manual workers. If there are not enough manual workers to make up for the lack of harvesting machines, then there will not be enough fibre produced at a reasonable enough price and then all consumers suffer.
Mills can make paper (or lumber, or pulp) from high cost fibre. They cannot make a product of any kind from no fibre at all.
There is now and there always has been a need for wood-harvesting equipment. The financial success of it depends on it being a better than average product, backed up by a better than average service with better than average customer relations. Any piece of equipment can be sold under conditions like these. It is surprising how many equipment manufacturers seem to forget these rules after they get a product well underway.
It is too bad, really, that wood harvesting has to be carried on in remote areas where people are few, biting insects are numerous, and the places have unpronounceable names along with unforgiveable extremes of climate.
The development of successful tree harvesting equipment in Eastern Canada is dependent upon the success of a shock treatment from some external force. The first part of the shock is here – the labour shortage. The second part will come when fibre producers suddenly become aware that not enough is being done in the area of mechanical harvesting.
There is also a third part of this shock. It is frequently fatal and will come with the sudden awareness that planning has not been done well and that fibre processing plants will have to close because there is no way to supply them.
It could happen here.