Pallet manufacturer looks to imports as timber crisis takes root

Raw material shortage creating production problems, CJ Sheeran Group warns

The State’s largest manufacturer and recycler of timber pallets has increasingly been forced to import timber as a result of a shortage of the product in the country.

CJ Sheeran Group told The Irish Times that timber produced in the Republic usually accounts for 95 per cent of its raw material. By November, that could be as low as 70 per cent, meaning the company will have to import an increasing volume of the raw material.

"What we're doing is we're starting to import timber from the Baltics and from Germany because we're just nervous that if this problem does not get better or is not resolved fairly soon at least we will still have supply," the company's business development director, Fergal Moran, said.

The problem Mr Moran is referring to is that shovel-ready, tree-felling projects have ground to a halt in the Republic as a result of delays in a Government appeal mechanism for such projects. Last week, the chief executive of Coillte, Imelda Hurley, warned the industry was at "breaking point" with thousands of jobs at "imminent risk".


Tree-felling licences

The industry has complained that appeals to the granting of tree-felling licences are not being dealt with quickly enough by the Department's Forestry Appeals Committee (FAC). The issue is that, under legislation introduced in 2017, appeals to licences must be heard by a committee headed by the chairman of the FAC. It has become apparent, however, that when the legislation was introduced the volume of appeals that would follow weren't anticipated.

Among CJ Sheeran's clients are ventilator manufacturers, whiskey makers and some of the world's top brands which export globally. Aside from its concerns about having to import timber, the company also noted that, if the timber shortage persisted, it would become increasingly more expensive to import. "That could open the gate for pallet manufacturers in the UK and continental Europe to come in here," he noted. "We need to have a competitive source of Irish timber to remain competitive ourselves."

Relationship with sawmills

CJ Sheeran Group has six sites across the Republic and is headquartered in Co Laois. The company employs 170 staff and produces more than 45,000 new timber pallets every week. More than 3,300 truckloads of Irish timber are used annually in its production.

Mr Moran noted the company had a good relationship with sawmills – it usually provides timber with a lead time of between one and two weeks. That has stretched into four weeks, he said, as a result of the crisis.

“We would be forecasting a supply issue in the near future if the issue is not resolved.” Mr Moran was keen to stress that the problem would not be felt by his customers, given that the company had contingency plans in place and had already ramped up its imports of timber from abroad.

He signalled the importance of the timber industry in the Irish economy. “We’re supplying into healthcare, pharma, food and drinks, all the staples you see in store. Everything is shipped on a pallet.”

Peter Hamilton

Peter Hamilton

Peter Hamilton is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in business