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Firewood price hike leaves Hills residents cold

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The price of redgum firewood has spiked again just before winter – and jumped by up to 50 per cent in a year – with one Adelaide Hills woodyard warning the increasingly scarce staple is becoming unaffordable for some residents who rely on it for heating.

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Redgum firewood is a home heating staple in the Hills and is particularly popular as it burns hotter and lasts longer than other varieties, produces less ash and maintains a steady bed of hot coals.

Stirling Woodyard – which sells redgum, bluegum and mixed firewood – has had to suspend redgum sales until May 10 due to a “high demand in firewood, and limited stock”.

When available, it is currently selling redgum for $480 a tonne and $240 a half-tonne. It is the most expensive of its firewood products ahead of mixed gum ($380 a tonne) and bluegum ($350 a tonne).

Woodyard co-owner Angela Papageorge said with more people staying at home last year due to the pandemic, demand for firewood surged – prompting a 35 per cent price hike from their suppliers in the New South Wales Balranald region.

“During that period, the wood mills just weren’t able to cut the wood quick enough to meet the demand of what we needed,” she said.

“So eventually there was a shortage and so even for a period of about six weeks, we actually had to shut down – we just couldn’t get any wood in last year.

“During that period of time, the suppliers increased their price by about 35 per cent.”

Papageorge said this year her woodyard began stockpiling redgum firewood in January to prepare for a similar surge in customers, but were still taken aback by an early increase in demand.

“The demand for firewood started a lot earlier,” she said.

“So instead of everyone starting March, April, we found in February, March, everybody was buying wood in high volumes.

“And then recently the wood mills increased the price another 15 per cent, so essentially in the last 12 months there’s been an increase of 50 per cent.

“When customers do come in, we do say to them ‘look, the price is going up’, and most people are accepting of the price.

“But obviously for some people that will impact them considerably, and that’s when we have encouraged them to try other types of firewood like mixed gum or bluegum which is a lot cheaper.”

Papageorge cautioned that “there are a lot of elderly people in the Hills who really rely on this source of heating” and the current prices mean it is “not sustainable for elderly people to use this”.

Graeme Nimmo, operations manager at Adelaide Hills Garden Supplies, said his store has had to raise redgum prices by $30 a tonne since the end of last winter.

“Unfortunately, it might be pretty soon that there’s going to be a price point where people just think ‘nup, we’re going to go to some other form of heating’,” Nimmo said.

His Verdun business in February put out a special redgum offer of $375 a tonne to ease customer demand during the winter, but says he can no longer afford to keep the lower prices due to the price hike from interstate suppliers.

“It just worries me that people think that it’s people like us that are milking it [and] spiking it,” Nimmo said.

“But it’s not us at all, it really is the supply. The demand’s exceeded the supply.”

He pointed out that while locally sourced bluegum alternatives were available in his store, “most of our customers want redgum – they just go straight past the bluegum”.

But bluegum prices could also be on the rise soon if redgum shortages from interstate continue, according to Firewood Solutions Managing Director Paul Nitschke.

Nitschke – whose company acts as both a retailer and wholesale supplier of South Australian bluegum firewood – said he has “a maximum of eight weeks supply left” at the current rate he is selling wood into the market.

“That only gets us into the middle of winter, so there may well be major supply shortages in the middle of winter of both [redgum and bluegum],” Nitschke said.

Despite his company wholesaling bluegum at a “significantly” lower rate than redgum from interstate, he said another price increase was inevitable.

“Pricing is going to go right up there [in the Hills],” he said.

“There’ll be a further price increase at the start of May for the bluegum, but we’ll try to maintain it as best we can at a manageable level.”

He added that his company was investigating organising alternative supplies from Kangaroo Island subject to the cost of transporting stock via ferries.

On the issue of redgum shortages from the eastern states, Nitschke said the NSW wood mills are yet to recover from last year’s demand surge.

“There was a huge shortage last year and it ran out early because of COVID,” he said.

“Since then, there’s hasn’t been the catch up.

“And a lot of the producers have relied on backpacker labour … so they haven’t had the availability of that.”

The bluegum supplier also pointed to land management policies in NSW and the costs of shipping wood from interstate as long-term problems that will keep upward pressure on prices.

“The redgums coming out of the River Murray wetlands forests [and] all the forests in the Murray Darling Basin – more and more they’re being locked away for conservation purposes,”

“It’s not going to be available long term, so supplies need to be sourced from elsewhere and people need to be looking at alternate wood sources.

“There is a strand of bluegum stuff here in the Adelaide Hills which can potentially take up some of the slack over the next couple of years.

“But people do seriously need to be exploring other options for their firewood than redgum.”

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