New Brunswick

Woodlot owners might be stronger with 1 board, former minister says

Former natural resources minister Bruce Northrup says woodlot owners might be better off if a single, provincewide marketing board represented them in dealings with forestry companies.

Bruce Northrup points to dairy farmers, who have done well with a single marketing board

Former Natural Resources Minister Bruce Northrup, feels woodlot owners might be better off with a single, province-wide marketing board. (CBC)

Former Natural Resources Minister Bruce Northrup says woodlot owners might be better off if a single, province-wide marketing board represented them in dealings with forestry companies.

Seven marketing boards in different regions of the province now serve private woodlot owners.

To make his case for a single marketing board, Northrup pointed to the model used by New Brunswick dairy farmers who, through their single board, have control over their market sector.

"They have one board and the milk marketing board works really well," he said.

The wood marketing boards once had exclusive rights to negotiate wood prices on behalf of their members.

We don't see that right now as being a solution to the current problem.- Rick Doucett, SNB marketing board

But in many cases today, mill owners like J.D. Irving Ltd., are bypassing the boards, requiring individual woodlot owners to negotiate prices one on one with a company or one of its contractors.

JDI started to use this practice on a large scale about eight years ago in the territory of Sussex-based Southern New Brunswick Forest Products Marketing Board.

In 2012, the company stopped buying wood from the SNB entirely, and has since expanded the practice of "direct contracts" to the territories of other marketing boards.

Six of the seven boards were created in the late 1970s and given regulatory powers over private wood sale by acts of the provincial legislature.

The recent industry practices have diminished the boards' effectiveness.

"Should there be seven boards instead of one?" asked Northrup, who was natural resources minister from 2010 to 2013 when David Alward's Progressive Conservatives were in power.

Rick Doucett, president of the New Brunswick Federation of Woodlot Owners, said the competition with Crown timber is the problem, not the number of marketing boards. (CBC)

"Maybe it's time to take a look to see if we could have one marketing board for the wood industry to work with industry."

Northrup said he plans to discuss the proposal with woodlot groups in coming months.

John Sabine, a director with the SNB board, said he worries a single, provincial board would lose touch with individual woodlot owners.

"That's something I wouldn't be opposed to looking at," said Sabine. "I don't see personally how that would be a big benefit."

Board sees Crown deals as problem

The single board idea is not a new one, said Rick Doucett, president of the New Brunswick Federation of Woodlot Owners.

"Oh, we've discussed it among ourselves," he said.

"I guess where we don't look at different structures very seriously is because we don't see that right now as being a solution to the current problem."

The problem, according to Doucett, is that marketing boards are being forced to compete with large volumes of wood available from Crown land.

He said there could be one "overall private wood agency" in the future, possibly with regional offices to ensure a broader pool of wood to ensure an adequate supply to ensure woodlot groups can fulfil their contracts with industry.

The head of industry group Forest NB says any structure created by the marketing board system would have to be a win/win for both woodlot owners and industry or it will not work.

"Not knowing what a single marketing board might look like administratively, how it would function, it's difficult to say if that's even a plausible proposal," said Mike Legere.

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