NCT’s small-scale growers visit Richards Bay Woodchips mill

January 9, 2017

Small-scale growers on a mill tour with mill manager Ryno Martyn and Elvis Nyathela of NCT Zululand … inspecting a truck load on the weighbridge.

NCT’s Richards Bay Woodchips hosted a field day for small-scale growers from the Zululand region, as the mill gears up to meet growing international demand for hardwood chips.

The mill, formerly known as SilvaCel, was purchased from Mondi several years ago. Recent upgrades to the logdeck and rail siding and the purchase of two new offloading cranes from Canada have increased the mill’s capacity to 550 000 to 600 000 tons a year.

Richards Bay Woodchips is the latest addition to NCT’s cluster of woodchip mills situated around the deep water port of Richards Bay, the others being BayFibre and ShinCel.

NCT has been increasing its capacity for exporting hardwood chips through Richards Bay over the past few years to meet expanding markets from the Far East. This is good news for timber growers, including the small-scale growers of Zululand, who market their timber through NCT.

Rob Thompson told the growers that NCT has had a good year for gum with new markets opening up in Japan, India and China, and this trend is expected to continue for the foreseeable future.

Mill manager Ryno Martyn said that exports from ShinCel had increased from 18 000 tons in 2012 to 550 000 tons in 2015. He said that 503 000 tons had been exported through ShinCel in the first seven months of this year, with a further 370 000 tons earmarked for the remainder of the year, which means NCT is heading for a record year.

He said that the upgraded Richards Bay Woodchips would become the primary export plant with the excess going to ShinCel.


The upgraded logdeck and two new offloading cranes imported from Canada have increased capacity at Richards Bay Woodchips, which is set to become the primary export mill.

Ryno said that NCT was looking at marketing chips for biofuel through ShinCel in order to utilize the additional mill capacity available, with a vessel scheduled for November, which will serve as a ‘trial run’.

He then explained the mill’s requirements regarding timber, focusing on moisture content and density. Timber requirements at the mill include the following:

Moisture content
Timber needs to be left in-field for four weeks before it is delivered to the mill. This is to ensure the correct moisture content of 36%.

Timber should not be felled before six years old, otherwise the ratio of heartwood to sapwood is not high enough, and the timber is too light-weight. In the first few years of growth, eucalyptus trees grow extremely fast, putting most of their energy into building sapwood. (This is the light-coloured wood that surrounds the dark wood in the centre of the tree, known as heartwood.) Since customers pay according to weight, a high ratio of heartwood is required to achieve sufficient density to make the process of chipping, storage and shipping worthwhile.

“If we don’t have the required density, we are not able to put enough timber on the ships, and if we don’t reach our target weight we get penalised,” explained Ryno.


The Zululand small-scale growers dwarfed by the chip pile at Richards Bay Woodchips.

Log dimensions
• Minimum diameter at thin end – 50 mm; maximum diameter – 550 mm
• Minimum length 1.8 m; maximum length 3.5 m

Log preparation & selection
• All logs must be straight, cleanly de-barked, de-branched and cut cleanly at both ends.
• No burnt, decayed, rotting, insect or disease damaged timber.
• Logs must be free of dirt, wire, nails or any other contamination.

Ryno explained that the strict timber specs required by the mill are not designed to make life difficult for growers – but rather to “protect our business”.

Booking System
Growers are required to book their timber into the mill. This is necessary to enable the mill to plan properly, and to reduce congestion of timber trucks at the weigh-bridge.

“We give growers a 36-hour window to arrive at the mill gates from the time the timber was booked in,” explained Ryno. “This avoids a situation where timber trucks have to stand outside the mill for long periods. We will take un-booked timber only when there are no trucks standing in the queue, so we will not make a truck with a valid booking stand and wait,” he said.

He said that 80% of timber coming to this mill is brought in by road, with the balance coming by rail.

The field day concluded with a mill tour, and then a delicious lunch back at the visitors’ centre.


Timber stacked in the log yard at the mill, part of a pilot biofuel shipment to the Far East.

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