FAILED timber giant Gunns is once again exporting woodchips with plans to ramp up production to a million tonnes a year and keep the pulp mill plan alive.
Gunns receiver Bryan Webster, from KordaMentha, said yesterday the Gunns woodchip mill at Long Reach was back in business, after stopping production in 2011.
A shipload of woodchips had already been exported from Burnie.
He said the Long Reach mill began accepting logs last month and the first ship, bound for Japan, was due to sail next month.
Mr Webster said the reopened woodchip mill boosted the chances of the pulp mill being built on the neighbouring 600-hectare site on the Tamar River, as it kept forestry skills in the state.
But he said the outcome of court action, now in process, over managed investment scheme forestry was much more important to the pulp mill's future.
This was because the court outcome would influence the amount of available wood.
Mr Webster said the Long Reach woodchip mill would produce about 500,000 tonnes for the year to March next year, all contracted to customers in Japan and China.
The woodchips came from trees on 40,000 hectares of eucalypt plantation estate owned by Gunns and controlled by the receiver, and all with Forest Stewardship Council certification.
Mr Webster said the estate could produce up to a million tonnes of woodchips a year in perpetuity, and he expected that would happen.
The Long Reach mill accepts logs most days and does the chipping on Friday, Saturday and Sunday of each week.
Mr Webster said since being appointed as receiver in September last year he had worked hard to keep the woodchip ``end-to-end'' business going, consisting of the Burnie and Long Reach mills and port, laboratory and nursery.
``It is a very tough [woodchip] market at the moment and the margin that we are making on this is not a lot,'' he said.
``But I wanted to avoid that [shutting business down] at all costs because if we shut everything down there would be a massive skills drain from Tasmania.
``Particularly from forestry as people are forced to find other types of work or go work on the mainland.''
Mr Webster said he was still negotiating new business.
``We are continuing to talk to all our customers and get further contracts but at this stage I would say it is likely that we are going to continue with the woodchipping business,'' he said.
``If at some point the pulp mill does get up, it is going to need a lot of forestry staff.
``And if we do not keep all those contractors and staff employed in the industry, then you are potentially going to have a skills shortage, a skills drain, from Tasmania.''
Mr Webster said the court action had to be decided, but potential assets he could sell included the pulp mill permit and 600-hectare site, the woodchip business and the plantation estate.