Nechako Lumber CEO Alan Fitzpatrick tours a cross-laminated timber test house at Building Research Institute

Small is beautiful for northern mill owners

#BCForestFuture series: Nechako Lumber was B.C.'s first to sell lumber to Japan, and has led the way in dealing with mountain pine beetle

One of a series of articles on the future of the B.C. forest industry. You can find the rest of the series in the links below or by searching for the hashtag #BCForestFuture on Facebook or Twitter.

TOKYO – Which B.C. forest products company was first to sell two-by-fours to the picky buyers of Japan? How about high-grade wood pellets for home heating in Italy?

It was Nechako Lumber, a privately owned forest products company in the northwestern B.C. community of Vanderhoof, says CEO Alan Fitzpatrick. And he has other examples of where his small company with a timber supply of small trees blazed a trail for bigger producers to compete on the world stage.

Skinny pine trees turned out to have an advantage, Fitzpatrick said in an interview during the recent B.C. forest industry trade mission to Japan and China. Japanese builders have insisted on only the finest wood for centuries, and Nechako has long been a brand of choice.

“Even though the pine is a small profile, it’s literally old growth pine,” he said. “The rings are very close together. They could be 120-year-old trees but only six inches wide, so they make a very good product with very little twist or bow, for the Japanese market.”

Milling small logs had its own challenges, leading the company to refine its sawmill and planer operations. But the results were good enough that every piece of prime lumber they produced was selling to Japan.

When the B.C. Interior was hit with the biggest mountain pine beetle epidemic on record, Nechako improved its optical log scanning to cut dry wood while avoiding the cracks that weaken dimensional lumber. A planer that pulls dry lumber through rather than pushing it and causing breakage also helped the operation’s efficiency.

“As far as we know, and we check once a year or so, it’s the fastest planer in the world,” Fitzpatrick said. “We’ve had visits from New Zealand, Japan, China, taking a look at our technology.”

Nechako dispensed with its beehive burner two decades ago, using bark as fuel for its dry kiln and chips and sawdust for pellets. Its subsidiary Premium Pellet was one of the first biofuel pellet producers in North America, and recently won certification to supply home heating pellets for Italy.

They must be bark and dust-free, for consistent feeding and clean burning in pellet stoves. Lower-grade pellets are sold to European industry to reduce their coal consumption.

It’s been one shock after the other for the B.C. forest industry, from pine beetle to the U.S. housing market collapse to the latest round of American trade action. Sales to China carried B.C. producers through the financial crisis that hit in 2009, mostly lower-grade lumber to use for concrete forms. Now China is beginning infill wall construction for large buildings to cut concrete use, and building resorts with the western look of engineered wood.

“That’s why these trade missions are so important,” Fitzpatrick said. “In Japan, it’s important for industry to lead and the [forests] ministry to support. But in the China markets it’s the exact opposite. The government leads and we support them. It’s just a difference in culture.”

B.C. Forests Minister Steve Thomson (left), deputy minister Tim Sheldan, Nechako Lumber CEO Alan Fitzpatrick and B.C. Asia trade representative Ben Stewart tour a wood infill wall project at Nanjing Tech University, China, Dec. 4, 2016.

Just Posted

Houston athlete trying out for regional girls’ team

Zone 7 girls’ team is first in eight years

Winter road maintenance standards boosted

Quicker response times, longer winter tire season to be implemented

HVAC overhaul to continue this summer

Upgrades at Houston Secondary School (HSS) are a long-time coming, according to… Continue reading

Northern B.C. rail service is unreliable and inadequate, trade minister says

Bruce Ralston pushes federal minister of transport to ensure reliable supply of rail cars

Celebrate the Value of Volunteering

National Volunteer Week is April 15-21

REPLAY: B.C. this week in video

In case you missed it, here’s a look at replay-worthy highlights from across the province this week

How to keep local news visible in your Facebook feed

Facebook has changed the news feed to emphasize personal connections. You might see less news.

Renewed plea for answers in 40-year-old B.C. cold case

The family of Lawrence Wellington Allard is hoping a private reward will get them some closure

UPDATED: Arrest made after van hits pedestrians in Toronto

Police are not saying what is the extent of injuries yet

B.C. farmland values grew at slower rate in 2017: report

Vancouver Island saw the highest growth in the province

Turbulent times for outgoing B.C. Lieutenant Governor

Judith Guichon ends term today, returns to Nicola Valley ranch

NHL playoffs weekly roundup

Maple Leafs look to stay alive tonight as they face elimination against Boston on home ice

Electric vehicles more affordable than you think: BC Hydro

Myths blocking road to electric vehicle adoption

Kinder Morgan bungled pipeline public relations: poll

The survey suggests 58 per cent of Canadians believe the company is to blame for poor perceptions

Most Read