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Commodity report

Pulpwood and pitprop supplies, 1946-1955

The first postwar decade has seen a remarkable expansion in world economy. In the war-ravaged areas recovery has been more rapid than was once expected. In areas remoter from actual operations, where industrial output had already risen during the war, the transition to peacetime production was relatively smooth and industrial output continued to rise. The political changes which followed the war resulted in many countries, including former dependent territories, taking important strides along the road to industrialization. In all, world industrial production (excluding China, the Soviet Union, and Eastern Europe) is estimated to have risen from 83 in 1946 to 137 in 1954 (1948 = 100).

This substantial rise in industrial output does not seem to have been accompanied by anything like a commensurate increase in the total forest output. From 1946 to 1955, reported world fellings rose by only 16 percent (Table 1). However, a steadily rising proportion of the harvested wood has been used industrially, so that over the same period the output of industrial wood rose by 35 percent. At the same time the pattern of end-use underwent a marked change, so that, whereas the volume of sawlogs produced rose by 25 percent and pitprop output by 21 percent, pulpwood production rose by no less than 79 percent. Output of pulpwood has alone kept pace with the rise in industrial production generally, and may perhaps have exceeded it. Other roundwood categories have fallen far behind. The pulp industry today absorbs 20 percent of all industrial wood produced, against 15 percent a decade ago (Table 1).

Though pitprop supplies have increased least, even a 21 percent rise is striking when it is seen that over this period the world's hard coal output has remained remarkably stable. Slightly less than 1,500 million tons in 1948, and rather more in 1954. The answer lies partly in the changed geographical pattern of hard coal production. United States coal output fell from 583 million tons in 1948 to 381 million tons in 1954, a decline attributable mainly to increased utilization of fuel oil for heating and rail transport.

Over the same period, European coal output rose from 500 to 600 million tons, while production in the Soviet Union increased from 200 to 364 million tons. The decline in United States output did not seriously affect the level of pitprop consumption, since mining in the U.S.A. is based largely on the use of non-wood props. In the Soviet Union and Europe, coal production continues to be based primarily on the use of wooden mining supports. It is the growing requirement of the Soviet coal industry that has been mainly responsible for the increase; in most European countries there have been serious efforts to effect economies in timber use and there is a definite trend towards the substitution of wooden supports by metal props.

The geographical disparities in the development of pulpwood consumption are less conspicuous. Over the decade there has been a progressive and almost general expansion in the consumption of pulp products, and world output of wood pulp has almost doubled. The fact that pulpwood supplies have increased by only three- quarters may be ascribed in part to the increasing utilization of wood waste as pulping raw material in all the main pulp producing centers. At the same time, steady improvements in pulping techniques have led to economies in the utilization of pulpwood per ton of pulp produced. But while this is true for nearly all the individual qualities of pulp produced, it has not brought about any decline in the over-all pulpwood/pulp ratio, since the pattern of pulp output has at the same time been steadily changing. The proportion of chemical to mechanical pulp has increased, and more and more pulp is produced in bleached qualities. Both these trends imply a reduced pulp yield in relation to wood consumed.

It is now generally accepted that the current rise in pulpwood demand is no transient phenomenon. Increasing industrial output, rising literacy and rising welfare all indicate a greater consumption of pulp products, and efforts are everywhere being made to mobilize greater amounts of the world's ample resources of fibrous materials to satisfy this need. The measures being taken vary in accordance with local possibilities, but in general there has been a steady broadening of the raw material base of the pulp industry alongside a more effective use of the forest crop. The increased utilization of wood waste for pulping has already been mentioned, and this is paralleled by more rational methods in the forest itself; for example, pre and post-logging cleaning operations help to salvage considerable quantities of small-sized roundwood for the pulp mills, while in many countries more efficient thinning practices enhance the mills' material supplies. New pulping techniques make possible the more extensive use of coniferous species formerly neglected, while in nearly all of the major pulp-producing countries increasing use is made of hardwoods.












in million cubic maters

Total roundwood removals

1 290

1 310

1 325

1 310

1 355

1 410

1 420

1 450

1 505

1 510

Industrial roundwood

































1See also FAO Yearbook of Forest Products Statistics 1955. - 2Provisional estimate.


The pressure of demand for pulp products on pulpwood supplies is being felt more and more heavily in the traditional pulp-producing centers. At the same time increasing interest attaches to the potential resources in those areas where pulp industries as yet exist only in embryo if at all, since it is in these regions that pulpwood requirements are likely to undergo the most rapid relative increase in the coming decades. Frequently these resources consist of non-traditional, and sometimes of non-wood, fibres. Technically, their suitability as raw material has in most cases now been well established. It is the economic mobilization of these resources, and notably of the mixed tropical hardwood forests, on which interest will probably center in the coming years.


World production of pitprops seems to be close on 40 million cubic meters (Table 2). Of this total, Europe and the Soviet Union each account for around 15 million cubic meters, all other regions together accounting for only a quarter of the world total. Soviet production covers the needs of the coal industry in the constituent republics, but in Europe many of the leading coal-producing countries depend on external sources of supply to satisfy a large part of their pitprop requirements. The proportion of European pitprop production entering the international market has varied during the past decade between 16 and 27 percent. In most of the principal coal-producing countries pitprop production has remained fairly free from fluctuations, the general trend being upwards. Output in the principal exporting countries has, however, undergone several sharp changes. In fact, a discussion of world trade in pitprops resolves itself into a discussion of the intra-European pitprop trade, since generally speaking all other regions and countries cover their requirements from indigenous sources.

A complicating element in the pitprop supplies and trade picture is that pulpwood supplies and trade follow a very similar pattern. Large quantities of small-sized roundwood cross European frontiers every year. Much of this roundwood is equally suitable for pulping and for use in mines. The proportion of pitprops to pulpwood in the trade fluctuates in accordance with the relative strength of the demand for these two commodities. A heavy demand for pulpwood, with consequent higher prices, may in a given year curtail the pitprop supplies available; in the following year, the need of importing countries to replenish their pitprop stocks may bring prop prices back to a competitive level, effecting a sharp recovery in the pitprop trade.

Hence, though European production during the period 1946 to 1955 in no year fell more than 10 percent below or rose more than 17 percent above the average for the decade (14.6 million cubic meters), intra-European trade recorded a high of 5.18 million cubic meters in 1952 and, in the following year, a low for the decade of 2.54 million cubic meters. In spite of fluctuations, this trade seems to be on the whole declining in volume. Most consuming countries are able to look increasingly to their own forests for small-dimensioned timber. Thus the volume imported by Belgium, France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom has gradually declined over the decade, and this decline has been only partly offset by increased imports on the part of Western Germany and, more recently, Hungary. In Germany, increasing pressure on domestic supplies of small-sized roundwood by the pulp industries has compelled the coal mines to look abroad for their pitprop supplies.

There have been some notable changes also in the relative importance of the various supply sources. Throughout the period Finland has been the leading supplier, and exports from that country have been consistently high. Only demand fluctuations have been responsible for year to year variations in the quantities shipped. Swedish exports have tended to rise; here the increased output of small-sized roundwood in southern Sweden, where the pulp industry is not as yet as highly developed as in the north, has forced producers to seek outlets for their timber on foreign markets. In the early post-war years, Germany was an important source of supplies but today Western Germany is a heavy net importer. Exports from Austria rose up to 1952, but have since fallen as domestic pulpwood requirements have sharply increased. Export availabilities may be expected to continue to decrease in the coming years. Similarly Poland, which exported varying amounts between 1949 and 1954, will probably disappear as a significant source of pitprops Western Europe as growing domestic requirements absorb the resources available. French export availabilities arise primarily in southwestern France. When internal demand lags exports rise, and vice versa.

The two most significant changes, however, have been the decline in Canadian and the rise in Soviet exports to Europe. In the immediate postwar period Canada was one of Europe's principal suppliers, but imports from that source have gradually declined, save for the peak import prompted by special circumstances in 1952. Canada still remains an important potential source of supply. The wood is there, and assuming the market were firm enough to bear trans-Atlantic freights (and no problems of payments intervened), more would undoubtedly be shipped. Thus Canada exercises a remote control on the European pitprops market, just as she does on the sawnwood market. A more immediate factor, however, is the supply from the Soviet Union. With the passing of the first phase of postwar domestic reconstruction, exports from the Soviet Union have steadily returned towards their prewar level. Today, the Soviet Union ranks second only to Finland in provisioning European coal mines with imported pitprops.

An interesting feature of the pitprop trade in recent years has been the tendency of the coal industries to content themselves with holding lower stocks (in relation to requirements) than formerly. The high level of stocks at the end of 1952 reflected a reaction to the difficult supply situation in 1951 rather than any real increase in needs. While improved mining techniques and economies in the use of wood may have helped to reduce the level of stocks judged necessary from an operational standpoint, the situation probably reflects general confidence in the continued stability of the pitprop market in Europe.


In spite of widespread war damage, direct and indirect, to the pulp industries of Europe, the Soviet Union and large parts of Asia, the world output of pulpwood at the end of the war stood already 10 percent higher than the immediate prewar level. This was the consequence of the rapid expansion during the war of the North American pulp industry, where pulp output had doubled. Since 1946, pulp production has continued to expand almost uninterruptedly in all parts of the world. During the decade under review European pulpwood output doubled, and in 1955 exceeded the prewar peak by one-quarter. Production of pulpwood in the Soviet Union also rose in 1955 to one-quarter over the 1938-9 level; this represented a sixfold increase in pulpwood output during the postwar decade. At the same time, the remarkable expansion in North America continued, and pulpwood production in that region rose from 61 million cubic meters in 1946 to 91 million cubic meters in 1955. These developments, alongside a sixfold increase in Asia (mainly Japan) and smaller increases in other regions,- brought total world production up to around 165 million cubic meters in 1955 (Table 3), or just about double the average of the immediate prewar years.

Alongside this rapid expansion in world production of pulpwood, some interesting changes have been taking place during the last twenty years; and especially in the postwar decade, in the pattern of raw material supplies for pulp. In the early days of wood pulp production the main raw material was spruce, but technical advances have brought about a rapid increase in the utilization of pine. The rise in sulphate pulping has been based on the use of pine. More recently, pitch precipitation methods have been evolved and successfully applied which permit the use of pine for mechanical pulp and newsprint, and a number of newsprint plants based on pine are already operating in the United States. Apart from conifers, more and more temperate hardwoods are also being pulped. This development is not restricted to those areas where native conifers are scarce, though naturally the usage of hardwoods is greater in such areas. In Italy, hardwoods account for 70 percent of all pulping raw materials; in Western Germany, for 25 percent. Already in 1952, the United States was using 14 percent hardwoods, and this percentage is expected to rise to 19 by 1960 and to 26 by 1975. Apart from naturally occurring broadleaved species, there is an increasing use in many parts of the world of fast-growing species grown in artificial plantations - poplar, willow, eucalyptus, and so on. A fact of economic significance, especially in countries where natural forests are scarce or inaccessible, is that whereas the average annual growth per hectare for coniferous species in the northern regions is from 1 to 2 cubic meters, plantation poplars under favorable conditions will produce 10 cubic meters and eucalypts from 10 to 20 cubic meters


Tentative steps have been taken in pulping mixtures of tropical hardwood species, though so far no major plant of economic size based on this source has been projected. However, the conviction is growing that a solution to the economic problems posed by tropical mill developments is only a matter of time.

Apart from the more catholic deployment of species, great strides have been taken in the last ten years in utilizing wood waste in the pulp mills. One of the limits to this development lies in the need to have the material available for collection at low cost. It is natural, therefore, that most progress has been recorded where the mechanical woodworking industries are concentrated geographically and consist of large-sized units.

Rising world pulpwood production has been parallelled by a growth in international trade in pulpwood, though the market has undergone some heavy fluctuations in the postwar decade. Except for a setback in 1949, the volume of exports rose rapidly from 1946 to reach a peak of 11.6 million cubic meters in 1951. After that, the market slowly adjusted itself to the consequences of the Korean War boom, and the volume of trade in 1955 is likely to reach, and perhaps exceed, the 1951 peak.

The longer term prospect for pulpwood supplies available for trade is not altogether reassuring; indeed, it is the belief that pulp products consumption, and with it pulpwood requirements, will continue to rise that has in part engendered the search for non-traditional materials. So far Finland, Europe's leading pulpwood exporter, has maintained her shipments, while Sweden, for reasons explained earlier, has managed to increased her exports of pulpwood. But in both these countries current plans for expanding pulp manufacture will make heavy calls on the resources available and it is by no means certain that Scandinavian shipments can be maintained at their present level. Canada is the world's leading pulp wood exporter and, while most of the shipments are destined for its neighbor to the couth, the country's resources could permit an increased contribution to European needs. So far Yugoslavia has maintained its exports, mainly of broadleaved species, while in recent years growing quantities from Poland and Czechoslovakia have also helped feed the European demand. The resumption, on a fairly substantial scale, of pulpwood exports from the Soviet Union in 1955 has been greeted with satisfaction by pulpwood importing countries in Western Europe.

Outside Europe, the only substantial flow of pulpwood trade is from Canada to the United States. While this has fluctuated heavily during the last decade, in accordance with changes in United States demand, it has to be borne in mind that the North American situation is very dissimilar to that in Europe. In Europe the main pulpwood importing countries may rely on imports for half or more of their total requirements; in the United States imports account for but 10 percent of total requirements. Moreover, the United States pulp industry has regular and well-established relations with Canadian suppliers, often having large forest leases in Canada. Thus the North American market is relatively less sensitive to market fluctuations that do occur from time to time.

In Europe, the pulp producers are tending to hold greater operational stocks of pulpwood, especially in importing countries, where bitter experience has shown how smooth running may be endangered if stocks are low and new supplies not readily available.


A study of the development of prices for smallsized roundwood over the last seven years reveals several interesting features (see Table 4). Except for the violent swing of 1951-2, a movement in which all major commodity prices shared, export prices of both pulpwood and pitprops have remained remarkably stable. Indeed, their level in the autumn of 1955 was in neither case far from the price level ruling in 1948. This is in marked contrast with the movement in sawnwood export prices. The latter also soared in 1951 and fell back in 1952, though the cycle was less marked than in the case of roundwood, and the downswing relatively much less pronounced. Today, however, sawnwood prices on the export market are back to their 1951 peak - almost double the price ruling in 1948-49.

A variety of factors have contributed to this disparity. Roundwood, of course, requires a lower expenditure of labor than sawnwood, and can more easily absorb increases in labor costs. The demand side of the market consists of relatively few large units - coal mines and pulpmills - and is in a better position to influence the course of prices than the many thousands of relatively small sawnwood traders who must compete against each other for preferred qualities. The demand side is further strengthened by the fact that, so far as the main importing countries are concerned, dependence on imports is more marked for sawnwood than for small-dimensioned roundwood. Finally, in the short run, the supply of roundwood is more elastic than the supply of sawnwood. The price trends in 1950-52 would seem to contradict this, but at that time there was a frankly speculative element in the market; in normal year-to-year transactions, the statement holds good.


Perhaps one further factor cannot be wholly discounted. Domestic users of roundwood in the roundwood exporting countries are not anxious to see export prices get out of hand, with inevitable repercussions on the supply and cost of their own raw material. Thus, in certain exporting countries, government action has not been lacking to supplement counsels of moderation designed to avert a repetition of the events of 1950-52.

It has to be remembered that small-sized roundwood is a premium commodity in international trade. Exporting countries have to balance the exchange-earning power of roundwood exports against the raw material requirements of domestic industry. The latter are constantly growing so that, so far as the traditional European exporters are concerned, the upper limit of export availabilities should fall in the long run. On the other hand, this trade flow cannot be obliterated so long as importing countries demand roundwood in exchange for goods essential to the economy of the exporting countries.


Rising coal production in Europe is not likely to lead to any expansion in the volume of pitprops traded. The trend towards metal mine supports, and increasing domestic production of small-sized wood, make it doubtful whether European trade in pitprops will even maintain its present level.

Pulpwood requirements in Europe, as in all other regions, will continue to grow, and availabilities will set a limit to the volume traded. An indefinite expansion in supplies cannot be looked for from the northern countries, but Western European pulp industries will welcome any additional supplies that can be obtained from the Soviet Union and, providing no payments problems arise, from Canada. Meanwhile, the present trend towards the utilization of hardwood, and efforts to make the maximum use of waste wood, will continue. Outside Europe, the world pulpwood market is likely to be limited to the established flow from Canada to the United States and, potentially, to imports into Japan. In all other areas, current and prospective pulp expansion plans are likely to be based on domestic fibre resources; sometimes non-traditional wood species, sometimes agricultural residues (straw, bagasse), bamboo and annual plants such as reeds.

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