Planting the seeds of economic development

There is an excellent article in the Economist this week about the forestry industry in Finland.  It includes interesting stories about the use of technology in the sector (driverless harvesting machines managed by mobile-phone apps), sustainability (they plant 20% more wood than than is harvested each year), business model – 100,000 small owners of woodlots combined own the largest pulp mill, and innovative products such as using the byproduct lignin to help with concrete production.

Despite changes in the sector, only British Columbia relies as much on forestry as a share of GDP as does New Brunswick.  It still employs thousands and thousands of workers directly in the forest, the mills and the supply chain and it is the second most important industry as a driver of export revenue for the province.

And, now, everyone seems to love the forest products industry.  Not only is it an important economic engine, it is going to help solve global warming and other thorny issues such as the proliferation of plastics.

This should be right in our wheelhouse.

Australia recently announced it would be planting billions of new trees each year as part of its plan to address global warming.  The trees will be thinned periodically and ultimately harvested created a long term economic industry for the country.  PM Trudeau recently talked about planting billions of more trees in Canada as part of his plan to get to ‘net’ zero carbon emissions by 2050.

I am intrigued by the idea of small woodlot owners becoming owners of a large pulp mill.  Right  now the relationship between the forest product mills and woodlot owners is not a particularly healthy one.  If the woodlot owners had ‘skin in the game’ and shared in the risk/reward that comes from investing in the sector, they might be better off in the long run.

I love the idea of planting more trees for eventual harvesting.  This creates a sustainable, long term advantage based on a core strength of the province.  I have talked about all the fallow agriculture land around the province.  Ideally this would be used for agriculture but maybe some of it could be used for tree planting.

I hope that we are investing in R&D alongside the the industry related to higher value products. New Brunswick should be at the leading edge of this revolution of replacing plastic-based products with wood-based products.  We were among the first to use wood pulp to make clothing.

Some will say we have too many trees already and may even say this is part of our problem.  Too much reliance on trees.  In the longer run, they would say we should cut down more trees and promote larger scale agriculture or attract millions of people to populate expanding urban areas.  Some might say we should cut down less trees and turn the province into a vast wilderness for ecotourism with small urban outposts where you can by your protein bars and energy drinks.

I’m interested in sustainable, long term development in this province.  When I pass away I would like to think we have left a stronger economy to future generations.  But this is not a given.  After decades of moving forward, our economic growth has stagnated in recent years.  If allocating another 5-10% of the land mass to tree cultivation and development will help the economy, sequester more carbon and ultimately lead to more sustainable consumer products, I say giddy up.

I don’t see any conflict between this and urban development, tourism development or boosting agriculture output.

As I have said before many times, it should be all hands on deck.