Navigating the Timber Shortages: Australia's Battle During COVID-19


The COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on global supply chains, affecting industries across the board. One sector hit particularly hard in Australia was the timber industry. As the virus spread and lockdowns were enforced, the timber shortages in the country began to escalate, posing significant challenges for construction, manufacturing, and various other sectors heavily reliant on timber. In this blog post, we will delve into the reasons behind Australia's timber shortages during the pandemic and explore the measures taken to address the crisis.

The Perfect Storm: Factors Contributing to Timber Shortages

Several interrelated factors converged to create a perfect storm of timber shortages in Australia during the COVID-19 pandemic:

  1. Supply Chain Disruptions: Global and local supply chains were severely disrupted as countries implemented lockdowns and travel restrictions. With reduced transportation and labour availability, the timely delivery of timber became increasingly challenging.
  2. Reduced Production: Timber mills and factories faced labour shortages due to lockdowns, social distancing requirements and safety concerns. This led to reduced production capacity and delayed processing of timber.
  3. High Demand for Renovations: As people spent more time at home, there was a surge in demand for home renovations and improvements. This translated into increased demand for timber, as many homeowners undertook DIY projects or hired contractors for renovations.
  4. Construction Boom: Despite the initial slowdown, Australia's construction sector experienced a rapid rebound as governments introduced packages such as HomeBuilder to stimulate economic recovery. The increased demand for new homes and infrastructure projects put further strain on the already limited timber supply.
  5. Exports and Log Exports: International demand for Australian timber, particularly from markets like China, added pressure on the domestic supply. Additionally, the export of logs, which could have been processed locally, further strained the timber availability.
  6. Environmental Factors: Bushfires, which ravaged parts of Australia before the pandemic, also had a lasting impact on timber supply. The destruction of forests reduced the availability of timber resources, exacerbating the shortages.

During this period the price of sea freight also impacted the industry. As the need to import timber grew, the cost of shipping increased by up to 5-times the pre-COVID levels which had a significant impact on the price of timber products. The price of framing timber doubled (and, in some cases, even tripled) during the height of the shortages and even companies like Tramin, which has low overheads and wasn’t impacted by staffing issues, had to increase its selling prices during these turbulent times.

Thankfully, with most countries now committed to “living with the virus”, supply chains have been mostly restored and sea freight has dropped back. So today the cost of most timber products is similar to what they were before the pandemic.

Lessons learnt

Australia's timber shortage during the COVID-19 pandemic underscored the vulnerabilities of global supply chains and the intricate balance required to meet the demands of a nation's economy and its people. The convergence of supply chain disruptions, increased demand and environmental factors created a complex challenge that required coordinated efforts from various sectors. While short-term strategies helped us navigate our way through these unprecedented times, we still need to develop policies that safeguard Australia's timber supply in the long term. We look to government and industry associations to work together to build resilience into the timber industry so that we are better able to cope with shocks in the future.

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