She says she saw a similar response to the downturn in logging and prices last year: “Instead of panicking, we thought ‘that’s going to be good for us’. The logging crews that were laid off needed to find something else to do. When we can’t sell our logs, we can produce timber here in NZ and supply the local market.”
“Buying a portable sawmill and setting up a sawing service is the logical next step”
She gives the example of gum sleepers. “At NZ$40 to NZ$50 in the store, there’s good margin to make your own. Buy some cheap logs, saw them up and sell for far cheaper,” says Kerris. “You don’t need to dry or treat them. So those logging gangs that are out of work have been coming to us and buying the Junior Peterson model. At NZ$12 000 they can get a small loan. It’s something affordable to create an income. They can see the cheap logs. They just need to turn them into timber. They can see that opportunity. Taking it has been really good for us and for them.”
She adds that when the market comes back they won’t feel bad about having a sawmill sitting in their shed. “It’ll sit there until they need it again. It’s not an overly expensive outlay.”
It’s that out-of-the-box thinking and adaptability that took Peterson Sawmills through to its 30th anniversary last year. The company has come a long way since its humble beginnings in Fiji.
“My parents were hippies from the States living in the Fiji islands for 12 years. They always had in mind some type of machine that could be portable enough to move into the forest and cut trees into timber to build a house,” says Kerris.
They were living in a thatched hut and had to boat in timber. “It was just completely illogical because we were living in 500 acres of beautiful forest, but we had no way to harvest. I think a lot of inventions come about from necessity,” she says.
After the 1987 coup, NZ was the nearest port that would take the family as refugees. Not allowed to work, her father, Carl Peterson finally pursued the idea of a portable sawmill that would be light enough to move, says Kerris. “At that point the only thing on the market that they called portable was this great big machine on a humungus trailer. If you couldn’t get a vehicle into the forest, how would you get the sawmill in?”