Will European Spruce Continue to Compete in Asian Markets?

10th March 2020
Spruce Bark Beetle

In 2019, the European forestry sector achieved a new milestone. It shipped 6.2 million tons of softwood logs to China. In just one-year Europe increased its position of supplying 2% of the Chinese softwood log import market to 17%.

A remarkable achievement and proof of the effectiveness of the new Chinese belt and road network. This did of course come at the expense of log export markets elsewhere. The reason for this increase is well known, the significant volume of low-cost pest and climate damaged wood mainly from Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic.

The volumes from Germany are particularly staggering, by the end of 2019 some 230 000 ha or up to 130 million m³ has been impacted. In 2018, 31.9 million m3 of damaged wood was harvested with estimates for 2019 at 68.6 million m³. If current climate trends are any measure, expect more to come. Perhaps not only from Central and Eastern Europe, but also from the spruce forests in Scandinavia. Damage has already been recorded in Sweden and Finland.

The spruce bark beetle (Ips typographus) is native to Europe and is normally present in manageable populations. The problem with Spruce in Mainland Europe is that a lot of it was originally planted offsite.  Now with lots of stressed trees around and mild winters unable to knock back populations it has become such a big problem.

Even without COVID 19, the available volume from damaged stands would affect timber markets through the entire course of 2020, but there will be further damage even if the weather improves just due to the sheer magnitude of bark beetle numbers. The situation will therefore very likely extend much further into 2021.

European forests for the most part have been quite conservatively managed. The collective volume of standing timber of potential commercial use was estimated to be 26.7 billion m³ in 2015. Many countries allowable cuts have for a long time been much less than what could sustainably be harvested. Climate change is upsetting this balance, not only due to calamities, but also due to increased growth rates. For example, Finland’s recent national forest inventory recorded a 7% increase in expected growth, adding ~170 million m³ to the national inventory. Expect Europe to continue to play an increasing role in the global wood supply balance for the foreseeable future.