The planting season has started in northern Europe and the planters are in high demand. In many countries, as in Sweden, most planters come from former east Europe. With the borders closed due to the Covid-19 crisis one can ask yourself – Can they come here? NordicWoodJournal.com takes a look at the situation.
High demands for planters
Since the iron curtain between east and west Europe came down around 1990 people from the east has come to Sweden, and other west countries, to plant forest every year. The wave of cheap, willing manual planters was so overwhelming that the development of machines for planting paused as there was no need for those anymore. We wrote about this in the article Swedish Forestry #3 a while ago.
As the development of planting machines hasn´t caught up yet, Swedish forestry is now dependent on foreign labor for planting.
So, what about the planters? Can they cross the borders to work?
Some phone calls tell us that the situation in Sweden is not all hopeless. The Swedish borders are not totally closed. The highly demanded planters can still come here and many of them, especially in south Sweden, came before the limitations started.
One of the larger forest management companies in mid-Sweden has 230 Romanians working with planting and pre-commercial thinning for them. They have managed to get as good as all their staff in place despite the limitations.
Two forest management companies in south Sweden give the same picture: It´s slightly more difficult to get enough staff but they manage. Both point out that there are actually no limitations for eastern European citizens to come to Sweden as long as they are from EU countries. The problem is that people are hesitating to go to Sweden because of the Swedish strategy in handling the Covid-19 situation. In some cases, their own authorities recommend them not to go to Sweden because of this.
The north is colder
One reason why there are fewer problems getting foreign labor in south Sweden is that there has been practically no winter this year. It means that the planting season could start very early, way before countries started to close down. In north Sweden, however, the situation is slightly different.
In the north, the planting season is just about to begin. A forester told us that he is waiting for 200 highly skilled Ukrainian planters who are for the moment in quarantine in their homeland. The quarantine will be released on the 17th April. If it is released according to plan, there will be no problems, but if the quarantine is extended there will be.
Plan B will be to find labor within the EU, or in Sweden. If this happens the production will be much lower, and more labor will be needed as skilled planters probably cannot be found on such short notice.
Despite the fact that some media reported major problems getting enough planters to Sweden for the planting season it seems that the situation is more or less under control. Most likely, there will be some sleepless nights for a forester or two before the season takes off also in the north.
Time for the machines to take over?
One reflection is that it will be interesting to see what the uncertainty for the upcoming planting season will do for the future development of planting machines. Maybe now is the time for a breakthrough for the planting machines?