ABARES National Wood Processing Survey 2016-17

Authors: Rhys Downham, Mijo Gavran and Ian Frakes


ABARES estimates that a total of 299 mills operated in 2016–17, comprising 182 hardwood sawmills, 58 softwood sawmills, 23 wood-based panel mills, 19 post and pole mills and 17 cypress pine sawmills. The number of sawmills in Australia has decreased significantly since 2006–07, with hardwood sawmills decreasing by 64 per cent and softwood and cypress pine sawmills by 31 per cent.

The volume of hardwood and softwood sawlogs harvested for domestic processing has also decreased by 38 per cent and 2 per cent, respectively, over the same period. However, the decline in mill numbers has slowed since 2012–13 and total sawlog processing volumes have increased.

In 2016–17 a total of 10.63 million cubic metres of sawlogs was processed in Australian sawmills, which comprised 1.91 million cubic metres of hardwood sawlogs, 8.58 million cubic metres of softwood sawlogs and 147,000 cubic metres of cypress pine sawlogs.

A total of 4.71 million cubic metres of sawnwood was produced in 2016–17, comprising 742,000 cubic metres of hardwood sawnwood, 3.91 million cubic metres of softwood sawnwood and 57,000 cubic metres of cypress pine sawnwood. In 2016–17 an estimated 280,000 cubic metres of posts and poles and 1.79 million cubic metres of wood-based panels was produced.

In 2016–17 around 27 per cent of hardwood sawnwood production was dry appearance-grade products, followed by green structural (24 per cent) and green other (24 per cent). In contrast, around 52 per cent of total softwood sawnwood production was dry structural-grade timber, followed by green other (23 per cent) and dry other (18 per cent).

An estimated $2.48 billion of revenue was generated in 2016–17 from the sale of sawnwood processed in Australia, comprising $930 million from hardwood sawnwood sales and $1.55 billion from softwood sawnwood sales.

A total of 5.49 million cubic metres of sawlog residues was produced in 2016–17, comprising 1.09 million cubic metres of hardwood residues and 4.40 million cubic metres of softwood residues.

ABARES estimates that Australia’s sawmills and post and pole mills employed 8,029 people in 2016–17, of which around 89 per cent were full-time workers (including managers and owners). Males accounted for around 90 per cent of the workforce. Cypress pine sawmills employed the highest proportion of part-time workers (14 per cent) and softwood sawmills employed the lowest (8 per cent). Wood-based panel mills employed a total of 2,390 people in 2016–17.

Around 36 per cent of mills expected an increase in demand for their product in 2017–18. The majority of respondents expected demand for their products to remain constant (60 per cent). Only a small proportion of hardwood sawmills (6 per cent) and wood-based panel mills (11 per cent) expected demand for their products to decrease.

The most common issue facing Australian mills was log supply (43 per cent of responses), followed by skilled labour (17 per cent) and mill costs (13 per cent). Other issues included the quality and size of logs, product demand and log costs.

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Last reviewed: 4 November 2019
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