The NCT Story

In the beginning, there was wattle..

THE LATE FORTIES - visionaries

Mr JM Hershensohnn First Chairman of NCT 1949 to 1954 Jim Hershensohnn farmed in the Dalton district and was a very tough negotiator when it came to timber sales for the members of NCT

Mr JM Hershensohnn First Chairman of NCT 1949 to 1954 Jim Hershensohnn farmed in the Dalton district and was a very tough negotiator when it came to timber sales for the members of NCT

In the beginning, there was only wattle bark. No one was particularly interested in the timber. Tannin was the reason for the existence of many timber farmers in South Africa during the years following World War 2 and the marketing of timber was unco-ordinated and haphazard.

On November 24th 1948, a group of 28 timber farmers in the Umvoti and New Hanover areas got together under the auspices of the Union Co-operative Limited (then known as the Union Co-operative Bark and Milling Company Limited). Led by Mr H F C (Heine) Küsel, they discussed the problems they were experiencing trying to negotiate the sale of their timber. As individuals, their bargaining power was weak. As a united group, marketing their timber collectively, they stood a better chance. As the regulations of the Union Co-operative prohibited trading in this type of market it was decided to form a separate cooperative. The meeting unanimously agreed to the concept and such was the enthusiasm prevailing at the gathering that eighteen of those present immediately applied for shares in the body yet to be formed.

The new organisation was registered with the Registrar of Cooperatives on 3 February 1949 as The Natal Co-operative Timber Company Limited. (Later in 1993 in keeping with popular usage, the name was altered to NCT Forestry Co-operative Limited.) Initially the secretarial and administrative functions were undertaken by the Union Co-operative, who continued to perform this service on NCT's behalf with great efficiency until 1975.

Shares were issued at a nominal value of £1 (at the time R2.00) each, of which growers paid an issue price of one shilling (ten cents) per share. The number of shares for which growers could apply, was based on one share per acre of trees, multiplied by the total area of trees an applicant owned. Initially members held in total about 8 000 hectares (20 000 acres) of trees. Fifty years later, the members' plantations cover a vast 200 000 hectares.

NCT's first directors were chairman JM Hershensohnn, deputy chairman RB Fyfe and GV Howard, Heine Küsel, OH Klipp, Colonel WS Slatter, J H nt-Holly Jnr, SJ Nuss and WF Schmidt.

THE FIFTIES - in business

Col WS Slatter Second Chairman of NCT 1954 to 1963

Initially the new co-operative venture was expected to be nonprofit making, the sole aim being for the direct benefit of members.

First Contract

The first contract negotiated by the new organisation was to supply Masonite Limited an estimated 20 000 to 40 000 short tons of Wattle with a maximum of 60 000 tons per annum. The contract was for two years at a price of £1/4/6 (one pound, four shillings and six pence) (R2.45 at the time) per ton delivered Estcourt! The Union Co-operative levied a fee of 6d (five cents) per ton for handling expenses and charged three per cent on net returns for administration expenses. These figures are relative to the times but nevertheless ludicrous by today's market prices. A start had been made and NCT was in business. The Co-op was achieving its goal of selling increased volumes of timber at realistic prices.

From the outset there were constant efforts to obtain realistic prices for members' timber.

Enthusiastic members continued to sign up with the new co-operative. The 1950 Directors Report noted that membership had grown from 38 to 52.

During the formative years of the fifties NCT grew steadily. Markets continued to expand and the demand for wood products grew. Still the constant struggle to sell greater volumes and obtain satisfactory prices for timber continued.

Some examples of prices and volumes in this early period were:

Pine logs to Masonite R3.25 per ton delivered Estcourt; and

Contracted quantities of pine:

5261 tons in 1950

9880 tons in 1951

7164 tons in 1952

Cut firewood sales constituted a large part of the business at R2.25 per ton FOR Senders station.

Fencing droppers fetched R1.00 per 100 FOR Dalton!

THE SIXTIES - Wattle-bark quotas introduced

Mr HFC Küsel Chairman 1963 - 1970

The introduction in 1963 of wattle bark quotas highlighted the need to utilise the timber to greater advantage. NCT rose to the challenge and exported several shipments of Wattle timber to Italy during the following two years. The price paid was R6.00 per ton FOB Durban. This did not grow into any great venture and progress during the first two decades of NCT's operations was modest. Several further investigations into the export market were made but proved uneconomical to expedite. In 1961 Mr Robbie Tosen was appointed as NCT's first full-time Field Officer. Today the description of the post is Extension Forester. A further staff posting came in 1969 when Dr N D (Doug) Crowe was appointed as Manager.

In 1969 the news was out that a new paper mill was being erected in Durban. The mill would be known as Mondi Paper Company Limited. Also about this time, two pack mills had been established by NCT at Kranskop and Dalton to market mining timber. On the strength of these additional emerging markets, the Co-operative embarked on a campaign to enrol additional members.

Then a much more significant development was about to take place which would have far-reaching benefits for hardwood growers.

THE SEVENTIES - a central timber co-operative established

In the late sixties a rift involving timber pricing had developed in the South African Timber Growers Association between processors and private timber growers. The late Mr Craig Anderson, Chairman of SATGA, had declared that in the future, private growers would have to protect and promote their interests through their respective co-operatives. NCT decided to pursue the idea of a central co-operative and discussions with Transvaal Wattle Growers (TWK) followed. Coincidentally, about this time Natalse Landbou Koöperasie Beperk (NLK) announced that it would be forming a separate division within its ranks to service its members who grew timber in Northern Natal.

After successful talks between the three interested primary cooperatives, it was agreed to form a Central Timber Co-operative to cater for private growers' needs. In the meantime, Messrs Craig Anderson and Volly van Breda had initiated negotiations with a Japanese buyer, Sumitomo Shoji Kaisha Corporation, with the intent to ship wattle chips to Sanyo Koku Saku Pulp and Paper Corporation in Japan for paper-making. Besides these two stalwarts, both Messrs A J (Dim) Royden-Turner and A J S (John) Slatter had also been instrumental in concluding successful negotiations.

The Central Timber Co-operative Limited (CTC) was registered as a co-operative in 1970 and a deal struck with Sumitomo to export Wattle chips. The new central co-operative erected a chipping plant at Cato Ridge and a shiploading facility in the Port of Durban. The new plant was capable of processing some 650 000 tons of hardwoods per annum, although initially only about 250 000 tons of Wattle was to be chipped.

Mr FO Klipp A great pragmatist who always ensured that the original values of NCT's founders were honoured

Mr PV van Breda Chairman 1970 – 1973 Volly van Breda came in with guns blazing in the negotiations with the Japanese

Mr AJ Royden-Turner Chairman 1973 – 1976 Another tough negotiator, particularly when it came to chip and ship for Japanese paper makers

Mr AJS Slatter Chairman 1976 – 1985 The supreme diplomat who was known for his deep personal involvement in the timber industry

NCT's first elected directors to the CTC board were Messrs F O Klipp, PV van Breda and A J Royden-Turner. Mr A J S Slatter was appointed as an alternate director.

TWK and NLK began railing their members' timber on a subsidised basis into the new plant and NCT sent its members' timber in by road from special depots in the Natal Midlands. This mode of transport was essential due to restricted facilities on the Greytown/Pietermaritzburg railway line which would have been unlikely to cope with anticipated volumes. This then prompted NCT to acquire Mosenthals Haulage Limited to transport timber. It was to be known in general terms as NCT Haulage. Together with eight International Transtar trucks and trailers, a base and workshop was established on land adjacent to the Cato Ridge chip plant. The contracted price to haul NCT members wattle wood was formulated on a cost plus 7.5% basis.

In July 1976 Laeveld Tabak Koöperasie Beperk became the fourth member of CTC.

THE LATE SEVENTIES - oversupply leads to exports

In the mid to late seventies a very serious crisis arose. Growers could not dispose of all of their Pine and Eucalyptus pulpwood on the local markets. The oversupply situation was daunting. Something had to be done and the Board resolved that if the local markets could not absorb the surplus timber, NCT would have to find alternative outlets. It was then that NCT applied the old adage, when the going gets tough, the tough get going. And so...to log exports.

Bugs, Spaniards and lazy stevedores

In 1978 NCT contracted to ship a consignment of some 13000m3 Eucalyptus grandis logs to Empressa Naçional de Celulosas (ENCE) in Spain. The logs had to be completely free of the little insect known as Phoracantha semi-Punctata which wriggled between the bark and the wood of the tree. The Spaniards were terrified of it. NCT field staff were despatched far and wide to ensure that all logs were free of such a horrendous pest which, if introduced to Spain, would destroy all Eucalyptus trees in that region. To say the least, those involved learnt a great deal from that venture!

And the name of the infamous ship was MV Teti-N. (See p20) The consignment arrived in due course off the port of Huelva, Spain, with much fanfare – but an unforeseen problem arose. The shipment was too big and the vessel was prohibited from entering the harbour because it was likely that it might settle on the seabed at low tide. After cruising around outside the port for some days it was finally diverted to Cadiz. NCT was now beset with additional problems – lazy stevedores who worked slowly and to the letter. Needless to say demurrage charges started to come into force and eventually amounted to US$105 000. It was a good thing the exchange rate was a reasonable R0.87 to the dollar in those days!

Agents and people who had professed to assist NCT suddenly became as scarce as processors voluntarily offering realistic prices for timber and, alas, NCT had to sort out the problem alone and foot the bill. But a valuable lesson had been learnt, and timber had been disposed of to the benefit of the growers.

This initial shipment of Eucalyptus logs was so stressful to many that Mr Brian Knott, Extension Forester at the time, composed a bit of amusing doggerel to fit the occasion.

BUT ...

1979 – MCV Ace Pioneer – loaded for France with 10 813 tons of pine pulpwood

NCT was now in the log export business. Over the next five years about two shipments a month on average of either Pine or Eucalyptus pulpwood logs were despatched to Europe and the Middle East.

Many a hiccup arose but those responsible took such problems in their stride.

Lost: one stevedore...

While loading a shipment of eucalyptus logs on the MV St Nicholas in Durban harbour, the stanchions supporting the deck cargo suddenly gave way, and logs tumbled and cascaded over the side onto the wharf, and between wharf and ship. Prior to this, stevedores had been scrambling over the piles of loaded logs and immediate fears were that people may have been swept overboard. A quick roll-call established some with slight injuries – and one missing. Frantic efforts were made to clear the jammed logs and locate the missing man. Those overseeing the operation were sweating with anxiety and had visions of a mangled body appearing any second.

... and found

Unbeknown to anyone the missing man had quietly left his workplace earlier to answer nature's call and was safely ensconced in a nearby toilet. Hearing the fuss he emerged and stood to the side calmly viewing in wonder the uproar before him. He was completely unaware that they were searching for him. We leave it to the reader to imagine the reaction of the foreman!

1978 Enter Ken McLeod

Ken McLeod was selected as the first General Manager of NCT, appointed in 1978

Ken McLeod was appointed as the first General Manager of NCT. He arrived at a time of growing expansion and diversification bringing his expertise gained in a related industry which was to prove invaluable to NCT in that sometimes painful period. Sadly he had to retire early due to a serious motor accident after only six years' service.

During this period NCT had been dealing directly with many agents. Shipments continued on an ad hoc basis until late 1979 when a new buyer appeared on the scene by the name of Marubeni Corporation from Japan. Marubeni, a direct competitor of CTC's trading partner, Sumitomo Corporation, was interested in buying Eucalyptus pulpwood logs. Sumitomo quite naturally voiced opposition to one of the primary co-operatives of CTC dealing directly with its rival. Fair enough, declared NCT, but then Sumitomo should make every effort to purchase NCT's surplus Gum. Regrettably a certain amount of strong feeling arose between several personalities in NCT and CTC over the issue but the point had been made. CTC began chipping Eucalyptus logs for Sumitomo in 1980.

Such was NCT's involvement in log export markets that it removed from the local market some 314 000 tons Eucalyptus and 130 000 tons Pine pulpwood between 1978 and 1983.

1979 Runner-up: exporter of the year

NCT attained a singular achievement in 1979 when it was voted runner-up in the Exporter of the Year award. This competition was run by the SA Foreign Trade Organisation in conjunction with “The Sunday Tribune” newspaper to stimulate exports in those times of international trade sanctions. Receipt of such an accolade was highly prized by the business community in those days and NCT, as a relative newcomer in a very competitive game, was proud of the achievement.

At this time there were further developments in the local market. On the home front there was expansion at the new port of Richards Bay with Mondi establishing a pulp mill and CTC relocating its chipping plant. Saiccor and NCT had finalised a favourable supply contract for hardwoods which reduced the need for constant log export shipments. This development paved the way for the emerging Black timber farmers to supply these markets.

Thereafter NCT executed a few shipments each year although volumes had decreased considerably.

Since the early eighties NCT has, from time to time, committed itself to ad hoc log export shipments in such diverse markets as Finland, Norway, Turkey and Morocco. This type of operation, often fraught with risk for the unwary, removed excess timber from the local scene and assisted in triggering price increases.

THE EIGHTIES - membership and markets increase

Northern Natal growers join NCT

In 1981 NLK in Northern Natal had advised its members that it wished to close down its Timber Division. Growers in the region could either form their own timber co-operative or join either TWK or NCT. At a meeting held at Kambula, growers from the Vryheid and Paulpietersburg areas decided that it would be in their best interests to join NCT. In return NCT guaranteed the Northern Natal region permanent representation on the NCT Board. This is entrenched in the Co-operative's statute of rules. NLK sold its shares in CTC to NCT which in turn increased NCT's director representation in CTC from three to four. Although not recorded in the statute, it has been tacitly accepted that one of NCT's directors to the CTC board will always be from Northern Natal. Today an NCT office and extension service based in Vryheid serves this thriving timber producing region.

The acquisition of a large influx of established growers at this time was to NCT's overall benefit because CTC had relocated its chip plant to Richards Bay and supplies from Northern Natal were strategically close to that mill.

In the same year Saiccor had offered NCT a ten-year supply contract for hardwoods. Included in the terms of the agreement was a favourable pricing formula allied to the six monthly movement of the Consumer Price Index. The arrangement was for NCT to supply between 120 000 and 150 000 tons Eucalyptus logs per annum. Having access to additional supplies from Northern Natal to feed the CTC chip plant meant that NCT could place more reliance on deliveries to Saiccor from traditional areas such as Southern Natal.

Haulage Division moves to Stanger

NCT also began diversifying in other operations. As mentioned earlier, the Haulage Division was running smoothly from its Cato Ridge base but, as CTC had moved its chip plant to Richards Bay, the Board realised that it would be more strategic to re-establish the haulage base nearer the chip plant. The outlay for such a move would prove to be very expensive but it was agreed that in the interests of efficiency, the operation should continue, provided road transport did not exceed rail cost.

In June 1982 a suitable location was found and purchased at New Guelderland outside Stanger. Workshops, offices, rest rooms and accommodation for drivers and other employees were built on site. To accommodate senior staff, five houses were purchased at Blythedale Beach and the whole operation was moved piecemeal.To finance the move NCT made application to the Land and Agricultural Bank for a loan of R850 000. The facility was granted but NCT's own monetary resources were sufficiently strong to allow it to fund the operation itself.

DROUGHTS AND FLOODS - lead to under supply

In 1982 and 1983 South Africa, including the Natal region, suffered a very serious drought which was to have far reaching consequences for timber growers. Lack of sufficient rains affected timber yields in the medium term, which in turn reduced availability of supplies. NCT struggled to meet hardwood obligations and herculean efforts had to be made to find sufficient timber. Partly because of this natural disaster a project to be known as the CTC Afforestation Scheme was launched. The purpose was to ensure future hardwood supplies to CTC in the long-term. The Japanese buyers agreed to provide necessary finance and the scheme was divided into two parts. The first was to purchase and/or lease land for forestry development. The second part was for the primary co-ops to encourage their grower members to establish hardwoods on new areas on their farms.Loans were available to assist members on condition the harvested timber was delivered through the agency of the primary. In turn NCT would advise and monitor the silvicultural progress of the relevant plantations. CTC then acquired various properties in Zululand, Northern Natal and the South Eastern Transvaal. This does not form part of NCT's story but it is interesting to note that the current sustained yield from these farms is in excess of 50 000 tons per annum.

First NCT Depots established Another development in the eighties was the establishment of secure log stock holding depots in the Midlands, the forerunners being set up at Glenside, Greytown, Harden Heights and Kranskop. The strategic value of these storage points proved their worth when Natal suffered the worst floods for many decades in September 1987. Talk about sublime to ridiculous! The extent of the devastation could be gauged by the John Ross Bridge over the Tugela River being swept away and traffic into Zululand having to be diverted over the old railway bridge further up the river. Huge areas were water-logged, farm access roads impassable and it was in many cases impossible to extract timber for delivery to mills. Stockpiling of timber on these depots proved their worth when it was possible to keep the mills supplied over a difficult period. More holding depots have since been established.

Everyone Wants to Join the Party

A third party appeared on the scene in the eighties and offered to purchase a half share of the CTC chip plant at Richards Bay. There were objections from TWK and many NCT growers who feared NCT could lose its identity in time. The offer was rejected. NCT's strength is in the support it receives from its members and over the years there have been many threats from powerful outside bodies to strike discord amongst individual growers thereby weakening NCT's effectiveness. It was felt that union with a competitor would eventually weaken NCT's control and thus the private grower would be back to square one, where he had been as he was forty years earlier.

The idea of a joint venture with local third parties was mooted several times over in this era but all came to nought.

Meetings of the NCT Board are not without humour and lightness at times. There was the time when Doug Crowe was earnestly holding forth on some important topic, (probably the prevailing low timber prices), and being constantly interrupted by a yapping dog in the flats next door to NCT's boardroom. Finally in exasperation he requested, ‘Mr Chairman, please send out the General Manager and have him buy the dog and have it put down!'

Incredibly, the creature ceased barking with immediate effect.

NCT - offices

Until 1975 NCT's office was registered at the Union Co-operative's headquarters in Dalton. In that year NCT appointed an administration manager to take over the ever-growing workload from the long-suffering Union Co-op staff who had been undertaking NCT's administrative function until then. So it was decided the time had come for NCT to find its own home. The following year NCT moved its headquarters to 209 Burger Street, Pietermaritzburg, but in a very short time even those premises proved too cramped.

An old house at 346 Burger Street was purchased. Situated in a garden, the house needed renovations and a sum of R500 was set aside to effect this work. On 1 June 1977 the staff relocated to the present headquarters.

Very soon a vegetable garden was established at the rear of the property and on late afternoons employees could be seen watering the tomatoes and feeding hundreds of pigeons which lived in the surrounding trees and gardens. Alas! Soon this tranquility was shattered when changes in top management required the budding horticulturalists to make a greater commitment to work. The birds departed and the lettuce patch became part of a new parking lot for visitors. So much for change and progress!

THE PEOPLE - who shaped NCT

From the start NCT has been fortunate to have been able to draw on the experience and leadership of people of exceptionally high calibre – people who not only foresaw the need for co-operation amongst their fellow growers, but decided upon what they could put into the business rather than what they could get out of it.

In the beginning there were leaders such as the late Mr Heine Küsel and Col Joe Slatter who were instrumental in rallying together their fellow growers to form NCT. Their vision saw the need for collective bargaining if the private timber growing industry was to develop.

Amongst prominent personalities of those early times was T F (Eric) Mackenzie who was in the forefront encouraging the growth of new paper industries in South Africa. Mention has already been made of those who were instrumental in the formation of CTC; namely Craig Anderson, Dim Royden-Turner, John Slatter and Volly van Breda. All these personalities continued to champion the cause of the private timber grower during their time. Many other prominent growers, leaders in their own communities, put in immeasurable time and effort to attend meetings and gatherings in the interests of furthering forestry development. From Northern Natal came P R (Rudolph) Nel, R M (Reg) Niebuhr and J A (Jannie) Scheepers who have and still do, travel long distances on a regular basis to attend the various meetings. S N (Stuart) McMurray from Melmoth and the late A G (Aggie) Payn from Harding, were two other long-standing directors who have served their fellow growers with distinction in Zululand and Southern Natal respectively.

Closer to home were Dr N D (Doug) Crowe, W A (Walter) Küsel, F O (Friedhold) Klipp and D F (David) Earl. R P (Peter) Lorenz, and Dr C A (Carl) Seele still serve on the board and have given tirelessly of their time and efforts.

Election of Directors

Dr Carl Seele, Chairman 1994 onwards
Mr Peter Keyworth, General Manager 1989 onwards

In South Africa, some agricultural co-operatives follow a rule that directors are to be elected from specific regions in order to ensure broad representation over the whole spectrum of that particular co-op's area of operations. NCT, while acknowledging the fairness of such a system, has always believed in the democratic approach that directors should be elected by members irrespective of the candidate's home district. This ensures that the best men are chosen. But when a specific area did not have representation, it used to be the custom to invite a leading timber grower from that district as an observer to board meetings. This practice has recently been discontinued.

Cognisance has to be given to the many loyal members who have not only supported their own organisation but urged their fellow growers in their areas to also uphold the ideals of the co-operative spirit. They are too numerous to mention by name in this short chronicle but recognition is given because NCT is about people and their support.

Contractors – an integral part of NCT

The hardy band of operators known as the Contractors form an integral part of NCT. These people fulfil a vital need where members with limited resources require their trees to be harvested. The contractors perform this function and most offer a fair deal. Unfortunately there have on occasion been those who have taken advantage of landowners to the overall detriment of the group. All in all the majority carry out a necessary exercise for the benefit of all concerned.

In 1989 Peter Keyworth was appointed as General Manager. Under Peter's guidance the co-op has continued to diversify and expand various services. It was his innovation that led to the introduction of farm management schemes and ultimately a new company to be known as NCT Tree Farming (Proprietary) Limited.

 
 

NCT Tree Farming (Pty) Ltd

During the 80's and 90's, NCT had been buying and harvesting standing plantations which assisted in bolstering supplies and contributed to the overall financial benefit of the co-operative. Subsequently in 1988 a management scheme for landowners was started by NCT with the Pietermaritzburg City Forestry Department and Harding Town Board plantations as the first clients. The scheme has worked exceedingly well to the benefit of all parties. The landowner receives maximum profits from his trees while letting someone else's expertise and management skills solve the day-to-day problems associated with forestry. The deal also assists in making forestry an attractive crop for landowners.

In 1995 NCT purchased two farms in its own name – Ingwe Forests in the Lidgetton area and Enon Forests near Richmond. At no stage was the intention that NCT's farms would compete with members' interests. It has always been there for the growers' well-being and as a reservoir in times of under supply. In addition it began to take on the management of more and more properties, several of which are of considerable extent such as Taurus plantation in the Barberton region of Mpumalanga.

As the scheme grew it became necessary to separate these activities from NCT's other operations. The result was a wholly-owned private company formed to administer and cater for this particular branch of NCT's services.

This is NCT Tree Farming (Pty) Limited.

In 1999 the number of farms being managed by NCT Tree Farming total eighteen, covering an area of some 12 000 hectares of trees. The prognosis for this type of management scheme is optimistic and the company is continually being contracted to manage additional farms.

THE NINETIES - timber on the move

The M.V. Aztlan leaves Durban harbour en route to Tofte, Norway, with 23 959 tonnes of Wattle and Eucalyptus pulpwood

Early in the decade Laeveld Koöperasie Beperk decided to dispose of its interest in CTC. As a result NCT acquired a 74% stake in that organisation, which left just two shareholders in CTC – NCT and TWK. Besides acquiring a greater interest in CTC during this period, NCT started to expand its field operations. In the past the primary purpose of the co-op had been to market its members' timber coupled with an extension service by experienced and qualified foresters. In 1992, after requests from private growers in the Eastern Transvaal, an office with appropriate staffing was opened in Nelspruit.

Further expansion took place in 1997 with the appointment of an extension forester in the Southern Cape to liaise with grower members in that region in conjunction with Suid- Westelike Landbou Koöperasie (now Tuinroete Agri). The majority of commercial timber growing areas in South Africa are now served by NCT. In addition, contact has been made with forestry interests in Swaziland and NCT currently maintains a presence in that country.

During the early nineties, the Haulage operation was expanded to include the Melmoth and Vryheid areas, but in time the whole exercise proved uneconomical due to cheaper alternatives in a competitive market. It was then decided to scale down the undertaking and concentrate on shorthaul operations utilising transport contractors. In 1995 steps were taken to dispose of the divisions. The only remaining transport operation is in the Vryheid district.

Other activities included the introduction of South African Transport Services block rail truck deliveries known as the Boomslang which had the effect of reducing delivery costs. NCT had a brief re-entry into producing mining timber in Northern Natal, but has since ceased operating in this particular market.

The Co-operative has, over the years, been associated with many organisations with similar goals in the forestry industry. The SA Timber Growers Association (SATGA) and the SA Wattle Growers Union (SAWGU) are very closely allied to NCT and its interests, and also support the interests of private growers. Other organisations which have figured in NCT's orbit over the years are Brokoöp Co-operative Insurance Brokers, the Institute for Commercial Forestry Research, Forestry Training Services and the Natal Agricultural Union.

NCT - 1999

Co-operative or company?

In recent times, many co-operatives have converted into companies. The question is asked why NCT did not follow this trend.

The NCT Board carefully considered the merits of such a conversion, as well as the apparent motivation of others who were proceeding down the conversion route, and decided that NCT could best serve its members in maintaining its cooperative format. Amongst the most obvious advantages are those that ensure the ownership stays in the hands of the independent timber growers, distribution is based on patronage and access is made easy for potential new members.

It is interesting to follow the fate of co-operatives who chose the conversion route and the effect it has had on their members, as well as the number that have subsequently considered reversing the process.

Meeting the needs of ALL its members

Since its inception, NCT has always extended its invitation for membership to all South African timber growers and contractors, regardless of race. In recent times, however, it has become increasingly clear that small scale timber growers, of whom the vast majority are Black, have special needs which differ in many ways to those of the more established and large-scale farmers. As a result of an analysis of these, the Cooperative appointed a Development Forester tasked with assisting small scale timber growers in the language of their choice in order to ensure that they gain the full benefit of being members of NCT. The Cooperative is convinced that this will be of further benefit to all members of the Co-operative as a whole as greater integration amongst all private timber growers is achieved.

Back to local markets again Fifty years after that first meeting of timber growers in Dalton, and after many ups and downs over the years, 1999 has again found timber farmers battling with an over-supply situation. With export markets unable to take all the timber which NCT members have available for marketing, the Co-operative has once again turned its attention to local markets. The first step was to appoint a Marketing Forester who would target local non-pulp markets and develop better relationships with them. Through much hard work, NCT has managed to secure supply agreements with buyers for pine and gum sawlogs, veneered products and mining timber in all the areas where NCT operates. The Co-operative began targeting treated pole plants, charcoal factories and industrial and structural sawmills.

NCT uses the “NCT Package of Quality services” when negotiating potential supply agreements. This includes the supply of quality raw material, a quality reconciliation system, a written supplies plan which is actively managed, access to NCT's favourable road and rail tariffs and the supply of FSC certified material where required.

FSC Certification

Working closely with sawlog markets, it became evident that NCT would need to examine the issue of FSC certification.

Certain consumers of solid timber products, mainly in Europe, demand assurances from their suppliers that the timber which they are buying comes from well-managed forests, approved by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Timber which carries the FSC trademark is acceptable to a wider range of markets.

When it emerged that the costs of the certification process were prohibitive to most of NCT's members, the Co-operative decided to go the group-certification route. This allows members access to the technical skills needed to implement a forestmanagement system acceptable to FSC, whilst sharing the costs of the expensive external auditors.

In August 1999 the first farms of NCT members were approved for certification. This was a great achievement for NCT as this was the first Group Certification scheme of its kind to be established successfully in Southern Africa. It will be of great benefit to members in the future as the demand for certified solid timber increases and possibly even spreads to pulp markets. Certification provides a door to those markets which might otherwise be closed, and through its proactive approach, NCT has managed to open that door for its members.

MOVING - with the technological times

When it became obvious that there were just too many records, orders and payments to be processed by hand, NCT began to computerise its operations. The first computer system was installed in 1980. The system in use then consisted of three IBM terminals which were later upgraded to seven terminals running off two 286 machines (with 1 meg of RAM and a 30 meg hard drive!)

Today NCT runs a HP9000 system with a total of 64 terminals in Head Office and the District Offices. Computerised order allocations and payments, electronic weighbridges at the depots and barcoded delivery notes are all a way of life for NCT members now.

NCT's sophisticated GIS and mapping system allows staff to view maps of members' properties and to calculate potential timber estimates at the touch of a button. A state-of-the-art computerised management system is used in the management of members' farms through NCT Tree Farming. And the Cooperative even has a colourful website which gives information to members and buyers alike. This will eventually be fully interactive and both members and buyers will be able to complete all their business transactions with NCT via this accurate system.

NCT has come a long way since the days of huge, bulky ledgers handwritten in perfect copperplate script!

NCT - 50 years ...and still growing

In 1999 NCT Forestry Co-operative Limited is a force to be reckoned with in the South African timber industry. The Co-operative employs 367 staff in KwaZulu-Natal, the Southern Cape and Mpumalanga. The six offices serve the needs of approximately 1500 members.

From the first year of trading when some 17 400 tons of timber were sold, totals over the past decade show an average of 1 200 000 tons marketed each year through NCT.

The current annual turnover is in excess of R283 000 000. Such figures prove the achievements of NCT. These are impressive statistics of which any listed company could be proud.