The French oak sector seems to be in a better place than it was two years ago. Business overall then was tougher, particularly the domestic market, but as big an issue for many mills was raw material supply. There was significant shortage. In fact, some described it as a crisis for the industry, to the extent that it might result in companies cutting output, shedding jobs, or even closing.

The key issue were French log exports, notably of oak and chiefly to China. “The Chinese importers are big businesses, with low overheads, and they can just out price us,” said a leading sawmiller at the time.

Feelings ran so high on the issue, that sawmillers organised a petition via the French Wood Federation (FNB) and a protest in Paris to draw attention to their plight. Eventually, the authorities stepped in last year. Working with the FNB, they imposed a ‘ restraining order’ on a proportion of log exports from French public forests, while new phytosanitary rules on [log] exports have also been introduced.

As Thiebaud Le Moign of Le Commerce du Bois, the true impact of the new controls will only be seen after a full year of operation. But, anecdotal evidence and the improved mood of hardwood sawmills is promising.

“Some logs are continuing to be exported causing infl ation,” said Mathieu Berthe, export manager at Estissac-based Tarteret. “But it’s a beginning.”

The imposition of controls has been controversial. The new ‘labelled sales’ (’ventes labellisées’) system means 300,000m3 of oak logs a year from these areas can only be bought on the proviso they’re processed in Europe.

Although this is less than 14% of France’s 2.2 million m3 total oak log harvest, it created tension between the timber sector and foresters, to the extent that the latter decided to leave the FNB and set up their own federation. There were legal obstacles to tackle too.

Additionally, the new phytosanitary rules stipulate that treatment against wood parasites can no longer be undertaken ‘on site’ in the forest. Now it has to be done at an officially sanctioned, controlled environment site, which must be enclosed and have a solid floor. This has also caused uproar, as the main impact will be felt in the price of logs for export.

The measure was meant to come in earlier this year, but was delayed until July 1.


Mr Berthe said that both domestic and export markets have improved.

“They’ve been progressing for nearly two years for all grades and products, and particularly since January,” he said.

The UK remains among Tarteret’s key export destinations, although the market has evolved. “There’s now more competition from other French and also Italian mills and while, it used to be all beams and boules, it’s now more square edged,” said Mr Berthe. “But demand’s still there.”

French sales, he added, were boosted by general economic improvement, but also less Eastern European competition. Underlining market improvement and the sector’s more positive perspective is Tarteret’s recent capital investment. New plant and equipment includes latest climate control technology in a 1,000m2 kiln-dried, square edge stock shed, and a new 2,500m2 warehouse for air-dried boules. “In 2017 we’re also installing more climate control and vacuum lifting equipment and a new slabber,” said Mr Berthe.

Multi-site mill and laminated panel products specialist Ducerf, based in Vendenesse-lès-Charolles is also positive due to a range of new developments. It was at the Carrefour du Bois for the first time under its new ‘corporate image’, comprising a new logo and ‘charter’ which, said export manager Florence Perrucaud, reflects its ‘holistic’ approach.

“It highlights our environmental concerns, that we source from sustainable forests, and process all timber, principally oak, but also other species, to maximum potential and yield,” she said. “Were also recycling all waste.”

Next, all this will be encapsulated in a new website, she added.

Ducerf is also spending at the sharp end across its three mills and value added product sites. It is investing in sawmill equipment, kilning, finger-jointing and laminated scantling technology. Among the results will be an increase in its present 14,500m3 sawn timber output, plus growth in pre-drying, and current 13,500m3 kilning capacity, with further expansion of its 20,000m2 of undercover storage.

“We’re also further developing thermotreating operations, with their products increasingly popular for decking and cladding,” said Ms Perrucaud.

New specific national market sizes are being produced in Ducerf’s Panoplot, Patchwood and Profileo edge-glued, fingerjointed and laminated panels and it’s also increasing output of ‘Aviplot’ cut-to-length, parallel-sawn boules.

As for the UK, Ms Perrucaud is ‘very optimistic’ for Ducerf’s products.