French sawyers boycott roundwood auction

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Champagnole Boycott

Empty room in Champagnole due to the boycott of buyers (Photo: Robert Wood)

On Monday, September 24, 2018, a scandal broke out at a roundwood auction of the French state forestry office Office National des Forêts (ONF). The sale in Champagnole (Jura) organized by ONF Burgundy-Franche-Comté has not been completed. Arriving in the first third of its progress, 60% of the proposed volumes remained unsold, and representatives of the Syndicat des Résineux of Franche-Comté, a member of the national sawmill association FNB, asked the fifty buyers present to leave, which was done on the spot. 

The Franche-Comté buyers had warned the officials of the ONF and the forest communes: "We will not accept a level of unsold roundwood comparable to that of last week in Gérardmer". In fact, on September 20, 2018, the public tender of the Vosges had ended up with an unsold record, which represents 70% of the volume auctioned.

The boycott of Champagnole can be explained quite simply. There is currently a plethora of wood on the markets in northeast of France, but also in Germany and Switzerland. The reasons are known: storm Eleanor from January 2 and 3, 2018 has heavily hit the forests of these regions. As a bonus, the summer that followed proved to be particularly hot and dry. As a result, the bark beetle infestation expanded since the middle of the summer season especially to spruce trees.

"The problem is that many sawmillers still have stocks of windfall to process," says Christian Martin, purchasing manager at Jurasciages, a processing unit in Haut-Doubs. Now with the beetle infestation, there is a glut and supply exceeds demand. Especially since some large institutional owners, probably anticipating an extension of the epidemic and a concomitant fall in prices, are currently marketing a lot of wood.

The situation is therefore fairly classic. On one side, sawyers want to buy at prices lower than those of spring 2018, arguing that the market must run freely. On the other hand, sellers fear a tumble in prices of softwoods and therefore seek to limit the haemorrhage by maintaining prices on the bases of last spring. 

The sawmill association FNB accuses the ONF of a market blockade. However, their representatives say that neither forest owners nor forest managers could be interested in an uncontrolled fall in prices given the large inflow of beetle wood. Market observers see a growing risk of market destabilization.

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