Despite rising prices, Estonia still facing firewood shortage

Firewood. Source: Olev Kenk/ERR

Rapla County log producer Kuldar Helend doesn't publicly advertise his goods. This summer, he also took down a sign that had been on the side of the road — as despite high prices, he simply doesn't have any logs to sell. The prospect of trouble with firewood supply was apparent by February.

"I've bought wood from the State Forest Management Center (RMK) too," said Helend, the owner of firewood company Pihlakobara. "I sent them a query, and immediately the first letter came that demand is so high for hardwood that they're not doing any offers; [that I should] keep an eye on auctions. By May, no raw materials whatsoever had been put up for even a single auction."

He had issues acquiring raw material last year already, when he didn't manage to buy so much as a single truckload of timber all summer. For small businesses whose primary focus is logmaking, this puts them in a tough spot.

"While big businesses can sign long-term — five year — contracts with RMK, and they have some sort of guarantee regarding how much [firewood] they'll get and at what price, I don't have that assurance," Helend explained.

According to the business owner, firewood is a volumes-based business, and factored into firewood prices are fees paid to the forest owner, to the logger as well as to the extracter, i.e. the one who transports the timber out of the forest.

He noted that if the timber has to be extracted a long ways, if it's destined to become firewood then it's sometimes cheaper to just abandon it where it was felled in the forest instead, as its final value is too low.

Compared with last fall, the price of raw materials has spiked 240 percent, and Helend believes prices may continue to rise.

He noted that heating plants, which provide heat and hot water, hadn't significantly stockpiled wood chips, and clearly started doing so once prices began to rise.

"They might have concluded some kind of bigger contracts, and that means that that price can't come down anymore," he explained. "All raw materials have gone up; demand has increased."

When Helend contacted a birch veneer producer about buying their scrap timber for making firewood logs, he received a negative reply, as they earn more money from wood chips produced from the scrap.

"The current price increase is such that the price of raw materials for firewood has risen faster than that of aspen timber, and aspen is then directed into heating," he explained.

Helend is currently making note of incoming firewood requests, but it's very likely that he won't have any logs to deliver by the start of the heating season for those calling him this month.

He believes, however, that current high prices will motivate owners of smaller forests as well, and that firewood will be available for purchase this fall as well. Whether it's a good idea to heat wood-burning stoves and ovens with such damp wood is of course another matter.

A parent in a large family himself, whose household hot water and heat are both provided by firewood, Helend admitted that he couldn't afford to buy his own firewood at current prices.

"Right now I'm thinking more along the lines of I'd rather sell these logs off and then heat using sawdust," he acknowledged.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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