Nechako Lumber CEO Alan Fitzpatrick tours a cross-laminated timber test house at Building Research Institute

Small is beautiful for northern mill owners

#BCForestFuture series: Nechako Lumber was B.C.'s first to sell lumber to Japan, and has led the way in dealing with mountain pine beetle

One of a series of articles on the future of the B.C. forest industry. You can find the rest of the series in the links below or by searching for the hashtag #BCForestFuture on Facebook or Twitter.

TOKYO – Which B.C. forest products company was first to sell two-by-fours to the picky buyers of Japan? How about high-grade wood pellets for home heating in Italy?

It was Nechako Lumber, a privately owned forest products company in the northwestern B.C. community of Vanderhoof, says CEO Alan Fitzpatrick. And he has other examples of where his small company with a timber supply of small trees blazed a trail for bigger producers to compete on the world stage.

Skinny pine trees turned out to have an advantage, Fitzpatrick said in an interview during the recent B.C. forest industry trade mission to Japan and China. Japanese builders have insisted on only the finest wood for centuries, and Nechako has long been a brand of choice.

“Even though the pine is a small profile, it’s literally old growth pine,” he said. “The rings are very close together. They could be 120-year-old trees but only six inches wide, so they make a very good product with very little twist or bow, for the Japanese market.”

Milling small logs had its own challenges, leading the company to refine its sawmill and planer operations. But the results were good enough that every piece of prime lumber they produced was selling to Japan.

When the B.C. Interior was hit with the biggest mountain pine beetle epidemic on record, Nechako improved its optical log scanning to cut dry wood while avoiding the cracks that weaken dimensional lumber. A planer that pulls dry lumber through rather than pushing it and causing breakage also helped the operation’s efficiency.

“As far as we know, and we check once a year or so, it’s the fastest planer in the world,” Fitzpatrick said. “We’ve had visits from New Zealand, Japan, China, taking a look at our technology.”

Nechako dispensed with its beehive burner two decades ago, using bark as fuel for its dry kiln and chips and sawdust for pellets. Its subsidiary Premium Pellet was one of the first biofuel pellet producers in North America, and recently won certification to supply home heating pellets for Italy.

They must be bark and dust-free, for consistent feeding and clean burning in pellet stoves. Lower-grade pellets are sold to European industry to reduce their coal consumption.

It’s been one shock after the other for the B.C. forest industry, from pine beetle to the U.S. housing market collapse to the latest round of American trade action. Sales to China carried B.C. producers through the financial crisis that hit in 2009, mostly lower-grade lumber to use for concrete forms. Now China is beginning infill wall construction for large buildings to cut concrete use, and building resorts with the western look of engineered wood.

“That’s why these trade missions are so important,” Fitzpatrick said. “In Japan, it’s important for industry to lead and the [forests] ministry to support. But in the China markets it’s the exact opposite. The government leads and we support them. It’s just a difference in culture.”

B.C. Forests Minister Steve Thomson (left), deputy minister Tim Sheldan, Nechako Lumber CEO Alan Fitzpatrick and B.C. Asia trade representative Ben Stewart tour a wood infill wall project at Nanjing Tech University, China, Dec. 4, 2016.

Just Posted

Tommy Chong says cannabis legalization makes him proud to be a Canadian

Legendary marijuana advocate and comedian celebrates cultural milestone at Kelowna event

Black trucks figure prominently in Shuswap thefts

Chase RCMP investigating stolen vehicles from several communities

‘Suspicious male’ not a threat, but police appreciate report

Salmon RCMP commend girls and bystanders on their vigilance

Contenders to return for Okanagan tour

Valdy, Gary Fjellgaard and Blu and Kelly Hopkins will perform at six venues

Former Vernon man guilty of Japanese exchange student’s murder

Natsumi Kogawa was found at empty heritage mansion shortly after she was reported missing in 2016

Cough cough: Kelowna MLA gets flu shot to prep for the cold season

Steve Thomson got his flu shot from Lakeside Medicine Centre Friday

B.C. tickets win big in Lotto Max draw

Jackpot carried over; B.C. tickets share Max Millions prizes

Shuswap’s young inchthyologists marvel at fish return

Sorrento Elementary students visit the Salute the Sockeye event at Tsútswecw Provincial Park.

Celebration salutes 60 years of medical care provided at Salmon Arm hospital

Hospital lauded for continuing advancements in top-notch care by B.C. health minister

Election 2018: Jay Simpson, candidate for Columbia Shuswap Regional District, Area F

One of two candidates vying to represent the North Shuswap provides a bio, talks about the issues.

Election 2018: Will Hansma, candidate for Columbia Shuswap Regional District, Area F

One of two candidates vying to represent North Shuswap provides a bio, talks about the issues.

‘Mom, I’m in trouble:’ Canadian faces 10 years for alleged graffiti

Brittney Schneider, another tourist caught spraying message on walls of Tha Pae Gate in Thailand

Feds consulting on national anti-racism strategy behind closed doors

Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez says people still face systemic racism in some communities

Most Read