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--  International  --

Going South

A forest industry show in the South American country of Uruguay showcases logging equipment well known in the Canadian woods.

By Jim Stirling

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Uruguay’s Expo Foresta 99, the country’s first dedicated forest industry show, attracted interest and participation from around Uruguay and neighbouring Brazil and Argentina.

Industry historians will identify the city of Tacuarembo and spring 1999 as a pivotal place and time in the awakening of the fledgling forest industry of the South American country of Uruguay.

The country’s first dedicated forest industry show—Expo Foresta 99—took place during a four-day period in March near the northern city, attracting interest and participation from around Uruguay and neighbouring Argentina and Brazil.

Carlos Pollak, chairman of the organizing committee for Expo Foresta, said he was pleased with the response to the show and that it represented a promising start. Pollak knows that forestry has a long journey in carving a niche in the industrial fabric of a country with rich—and deep—agricultural traditions. But preliminary plans call for a follow-up event in the year 2000 to rein-force the concept of trees as a renewable and sustainable crop that can be harvested on an industrial scale. Uruguay possesses the natural advantages of gentle topography and rapid tree growth rotation. It rep-resents a potential that’s already being developed by Canadian, American and Chilean forest companies.

Uruguay is a small country by South American standards, about the size of England and Wales. It’s situated between the continent’s two dominant countries, Brazil to the north and Argentina to the west. To the south and east of Uruguay is the South Atlantic Ocean. Tacuarembo lies in hill country about 390 kilometres north of the capital city of Montevideo.

The extent of forest industry globalization was evident with many of the manufacturers represented at Expo Foresta. Volvo, Timberjack, Husqvarna, Bell, Tigercat and Wood-Mizer were among the names familiar to the North American industry. There were further similarities. Visitors showed the same fascination and interest in the lat-est forestry equipment as they do at the much larger and more sophisticated industry shows in Canada. This was especially true of the live equipment demonstrations held in an adjacent wooded area, which attracted large crowds.

One of the machines strutting its stuff was the Timberjack 1210B forwarder. The equipment is familiar in Canadian forests but new to the woods of Uruguay. It was demonstrated by Timberjack dealer Alberto Voulminot. He’s rare in Uruguayan forestry in that he represents the third generation of industry involvement there, and his son is continuing the tradition. His visionary grand-father began the business in 1947. The family company, Industrias Forestales Arazati S.A., operates a plantation to support a milling operation in southern Uruguay.

The north and central parts of Uruguay are gaucho country and therein lies one of the forest industry’s fundamental challenges. "It’s cattle, horses and sheep here," summarizes Voulminot. "It’s a different culture." Less than three per cent of Uruguay is forest land, but that is gradually changing.

People still look at a machine like the 1210 with an interested curiosity, but most fail to grasp its potential. When it comes to wood handling, many will simply think about what kind of attachment they can put on a tractor, notes Voulminot. One of the reasons for Expo Foresta is to begin the process of changing those attitudes and implanting the notion of forestry as a viable industrial cash crop.

Uruguay’s ace in the hole is its ability to grow trees. Eucalyptus plantations can be ready to harvest in 10 years; pines like the loblolly from the southern US also do very nicely in Uruguay. The gentle landscape and receptive soils are a tree planter’s dream compared to most Canadian sites.

Both West Fraser Timber and Weyerhaeuser have established plantations in northern Uruguay, between Tacuarembo and the Brazilian border. The Uruguayans welcome the investment and the country makes it as easy as possible for it to hap-pen. Plantations lead—remarkably quickly it seems—to harvesting, sawmilling and other processing plants. That, in turn, translates into new jobs and new horizons for Uruguayans. Urufor S.A. Industrias Forestales is an example of a company that has followed that route. Its integrated activ-ities include a tree nursery, intensive management of its eucalyptus and pine plantations, operation of a sawmill and re-manufacturing plant producing a range of quality housing and furniture products for inter-national markets.

Technological innovation is no stranger to the Uruguayan forest industry, despite its youth. Voulminot notes the development of a rotating debarking kit for eucalyptus that fits right on to the processing head of a machine like a Timberjack 1270 harvester. Removing bark from eucalyptus becomes tougher the longer the time between harvesting and debarking. The pulp log material is exported to countries like Spain, Portugal and as far away as Finland.

Expo Foresta 99 demonstrated some-thing else that perhaps surprised the business community of Tacuarembo. It’s called spin-off benefits. The forestry show attracted large numbers of out-of-town visitors who made good use of Tacuarembo’s hotels, restaurants, bars and stores. The multi pesos deposited in the city’s cash registers gave businesses a sufficient taste of what the forest industry can deliver in economic side benefits.


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