Danny Knoesen takes over the helm as General Manager of NCT Forestry Cooperative Ltd at an interesting time in history. The first ‘wave’ of the Coronavirus epidemic has passed through causing severe market disruptions and uncertainties across the globe, sending the local South African economy into what could be a deep and long recession.
However NCT appears to have fared better than many other businesses as the marketing team managed to find new customers for woodchips despite weakening demand for pulp and paper products around the world and across the board.
Danny takes over the reins from Patrick Kime, who has led the Cooperative with distinction since 2004. During Patrick’s tenure NCT went from being a supplier of three woodchip mills – which had other shareholders with different priorities – to acquiring total ownership and control over the milling and export operations.
Danny joined NCT in 2013 as General Manager of the wood chipping operations soon after NCT acquired 100% ownership of the three mills, BayFibre and Shincel (Richards Bay) and Durban Wood Chips. He has played a pivotal role in implementing major strategic restructuring and technical improvements that resulted in the consolidation and standardisation of all aspects of the three mills that were previously individually managed.
This process has given NCT direct control over the full logistics chain from members plantations to their customers around the world. Considering that the export of chips currently contributes around 80% of NCT’s annual revenue, this strategy can only serve to strengthen the business for the benefit of members going forward.
With a strong background in engineering and some 28 years of experience in forest products and pulp and paper industries, Danny is the ideal person to lead the cooperative into the future. Prior to joining NCT he worked for Sappi in various capacities, gaining a broad range of experience in every facet of the business from timber procurement to logistics, managing manufacturing operations, marketing and finance.
When SA Forestry visited Danny in his office at Durban Wood Chips, the first Chinese vessel to be serviced by NCT Durban was berthed alongside Maydon Wharf 8, loading wattle chips for a new customer. Danny was understandably proud of this achievement, considering the fact that SA was at Level 3 Lockdown at the time and much of the world was still reeling from the Covid fallout.
He said that NCT’s Eucalyptus chip exports had declined since the peak in 2017, but that wattle chip exports were holding their own, having been recently boosted by the new Chinese customer. The focus for NCT going forward is to expand the Eucalyptus chip exports, he said, as well as looking for new biofuel markets in Europe.
Danny considers NCT’s reputation for quality and reliability as a key ingredient in their export marketing success. As somebody with extensive experience in the pulping process, he knows that customers buying woodchips are looking for raw material consistency above all else. It’s got to have the right moisture content, density, chip sizes etc in order for the process to be optimised.
It is for this reason that members’ timber arriving at the mill gate must conform to strict standards in terms of form, diameter, wood density, moisture content etc.
Another key factor in mill efficiency, says Danny, is that members’ timber trucks arriving at the plant need to be offloaded as quickly as possible. This is difficult to achieve when the majority of long haul trucks tend to arrive at the mill gate between 4 pm and 8 pm.
NCT has recently established a transhipment depot in Vryheid to facilitate the use of rail to transport wattle timber sourced from the northern catchment to the Richards Bay mill. Apart from the saving for members in transport costs and the benefits to the environment, it allows a more even flow of timber into the mill, thus reducing the congestion at peak times.
Danny says the transhipment depot is currently handling around 13 000 tons of wattle timber per month, and has the capacity to handle up to 120 000 tons a month. The increasing use of rail to haul timber from this depot to Richards Bay is the result of constructive engagement with Transnet Freight Rail over a number of years.
The acquisition of NCT-owned plantations has also contributed to building NCT’s reputation for reliability with the market. These plantations provide a resource that can be called upon at short notice to fill orders if there is a gap, and members’ timber is not available.
“We will never put NCT’s own timber ahead of members’ timber, but having our own plantations gives us some flexibility in supply which may be needed from time to time to ensure orders are met,” he said.
Danny is a born and bred KwaZulu-Natalian, and has been able to stay in the province he loves for his entire career, despite numerous attempts by his previous employer to lure him to Johannesburg. Now he finds himself at the helm of a homegrown KZN business, and he is clearly relishing the challenge that lies ahead.
“Danny is a proven leader with solid engineering skills, business vision and the ability to bring people together. His experience in business integration, manufacturing and procurement adds value to our unique timber marketing organisation,” commented NCT Chairman Philip Day.
Related article: New NCT depot moves timber from road to rail