Friday Offcuts – 12 April 2024

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Welcome to this week's edition of Friday Offcuts.

Foresta's NZ$300 million torrefied wood pellet project signifies a significant stride towards renewable energy adoption in New Zealand, promising both environmental benefits and job opportunities. The global shift towards renewable, sustainable and locally-sourced energy will only intensify. In addition, Safetree NZ has released their H&S stats dashboard for March 2024, which shows a continued downward trend in forestry workplace injuries and fatalities.

In Australia, Big River Group's A$22 million upgrade underscores their commitment to timber manufacturing. This initiative not only bolsters the local economy, but also addresses challenges such as skills shortages through job creation and training programs. A recent SAFPA disaster resilience summit in South Australia has highlighted collaborative efforts to mitigate the impacts of natural disasters on regional communities and reflects a proactive approach to addressing environmental challenges.

Finally, we also congratulate Scion’s Dr. Brian Richardson, who’s contributions to forest protection and biosecurity were recognised at this week’s NZ Biosecurity Awards dinner. This was the latest in a long list of achievements Dr Richardson has received in his long career in forest research.

This is another packed edition of Friday Offcuts. Enjoy the read.

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NZ$300 million torrefied wood pellet planned

Plans to build New Zealand’s first plant to produce low emissions fossil free fuel to replace coal have moved a step closer with the signing of an agreement to lease a site at Kawerau. Australian listed company  Foresta has announced the signing of a 30- year lease (with a 20 year right of renewal) on a 9.6 ha property in Kawerau with local iwi owned Putauaki Trust. 

Foresta plans to invest some NZ$300 million building the plant which at full production will employ more than 100 workers.

“There’s a huge opportunity in New Zealand for our world leading low emissions technology and today we’ve taken a major step forward in our plans,” said Foresta Chairman Henry Cheng. “We’re very excited to play our part in building a greener, more sustainable future for New Zealand by producing our unique low impact torrefied wood pellets.” 

The site chosen for the plant is in an industrial zone developed by Putauaki Trust with the support of the Provincial Growth Fund which funded significant roading and other infrastructure improvements.

Foresta is currently negotiating supply agreements with owners of sustainably managed pine plantations. In December, Foresta signed a 10-year agreement with South Island energy distribution company Tailored Energy & Resources Ltd (TERL) to supply 65,000 tonnes of pellets annually to its industrial customers.

The production process produces torrefied “black” wood pellets – involving heating the wood pellets to between 200 and 300 deg C, in the absence of oxygen. A recent Genesis trial at Huntly power station using similar pellets reduced emissions by at least 90%.

New Zealand currently consumes around two million tonnes of coal per annum for industrial processes, electricity generation and commercial heating. Just seven million tonnes of pine feedstock would be used to produce two million tonnes of black wood pellets, which can directly replace the country’s annual coal consumption.

“The fuel could potentially reduce New Zealand’s total annual gross greenhouse gas emissions by 5% while adding 20% value to the country’s forest revenues.” Foresta further adds value by using the underutilised stumps and tops of the trees.

“Today marks a major step forward for Foresta and underlines our commitment to helping New Zealand build a more sustainable and environmentally friendly chemical and energy industry,” said Henry Cheng.

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Source: Foresta

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Major upgrades to Grafton timber factory

Big River Group, a major supplier of timber products in Australia, completed a significant upgrade to their Grafton, NSW timber factory. The A$22 million project, funded partly by the government's Bushfire Local Economic Recovery Fund, aims to improve the sustainable manufacturing of speciality timber products for the construction industry.

The upgraded factory features new machinery that will significantly increase Big River's output. This will create 20 new jobs in Grafton, adding to Big River’s existing local workforce and its 610 employees nationally. Big River is also committed to fostering local talent through training programs and supporting local businesses.

The Government highlighted the project's importance in supporting the economic recovery of bushfire-affected regions and addressing the shortage of building supplies in NSW. Big River not only supplies essential building products but also offers decorative and architectural products.

Big River's CEO, John Lorente, expressed his enthusiasm for the project, "As we unveil the latest upgrade to our Grafton facility, we continue a tradition of excellence that began over 100 years ago. This project represents more than just an expansion; it’s a clear demonstration of our commitment to innovation, sustainability, investment in and growth of our workforce."

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Source: Big River Group

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Work to protect NZ's forests recognised

Spanning four decades and featuring domestic and internationally significant work, Dr Brian Richardson’s career was acknowledged when Biosecurity Minister Andrew Hoggard presented him with the Minister’s Biosecurity Award at the NZ Biosecurity Awards dinner at the Beehive.

The award recognises outstanding contributions to New Zealand biosecurity over at least 10 years.

Richardson, a principal scientist in Scion’s Plant Protection Physics and Chemistry team, has worked at Scion since 1983 and research during his 41-year career has focused on forest protection, particularly in the areas of biosecurity and pest management. 

His expertise in pesticide application has been applied to pest eradication operations and more recently to the problem of wilding conifers, where his aerial spraying guidelines now underpin the Wilding Conifer Control Programme. 

Richardson also helped eradicate invasive insects including the painted apple moth, white-spotted tussock moth, and southern saltmarsh mosquito. Successful invasions of these pests could have crippled New Zealand’s horticulture and forestry exports

What keeps many people in science, Richardson says, is a sense of curiosity. “That sense of discovery is really exciting, but for me, it’s adding value. Seeing something you do of use to someone. That motivates me. Working with teams has always been a big part of it too.” 

When Richardson looks back on his career, it’s the people he reflects on. “Anything I’ve achieved has been with the support and partnership of others who I feel all share in this award. Sadly, some of those who helped me on my career journey are no longer with us, but I will still acknowledge their contributions.” 

He also remembers some challenging and successful projects that became career highlights. 

“I think some have shared common characteristics. They’ve been complex problems with clear goals or challenges for the science to overcome. They’ve involved partnerships between policymakers, the science teams and people managing operations. We've worked closely together as a team and that’s really key to success,” he says. 

Forest Owners Association chief executive Dr Elizabeth Heeg says Richardson’s recognition is well deserved. “ It’s really important for scientists in the forest industry to be recognised. Scientists generally, and those who work in the forest industry in particular, tend to be overlooked when awards are handed out. So recognition through a Ministerial Award is tremendous news.” 

The award is the latest in a list of Richardson’s achievements including the NZ Institute of Forestry ‘Forester Of the Year’ Award in 2015, a Science New Zealand Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019 and New Zealand Plant Protection Medal in 2022. 

Source: Scion

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April 2024 NZ log market update

Opinion Piece, Marcus Musson, Director, Forest360

It’s all a bit gloomy really, daylight savings has finished, lambs and logs are worth bugger all, the media has lost its social license, and the economy is in the cart. No matter who you talk to in the primary and wider sectors, most are facing some significant headwinds in terms of rising costs and reducing sales prices. The days of discussions around the water cooler about what size engine you are putting on your new boat have been replaced by bemoaning about having to sell the boat to recapitalize your business.

These discussions are probably no surprise as good old uncle Adrian Orr has allowed inflation to run away over the post covid era and the countries that we supply our wonderful commodities to (primarily China) have had inflation rates that barely register. This means our costs are higher and our customers don’t have the ability to pay more, which all adds up to margin squeeze and, as primary producers, we are the ones facing the squeeziest of it.

The state of the China property market is old news now but still incredibly important to our industry. Current Chinese housing starts are back at post GFC 2008 levels which is down 61% from the peak level in 2021. There is a big discrepancy between starts and ‘under construction’ figures which are only down 11% over the same period, something that Goldman Sachs has labelled the ‘completions cliff’. This is explained by the time lag between kicking a project off and completion and does indicate that, once the current builds are finished, the Chinese construction industry will look vastly different. The sentiment of this is playing out in the Iron ore futures markets with a slide that would make Tesla shares look good.

What has manifested with global log trade is the reduction in non-NZ log supply into China with Europe and North America significantly reducing deliveries. NZ now has a much larger share of the softwood pie, which is great, but the problem is the pie is now the size of a savory so to keep things in balance we must keep a lid on the amount of mince and cheese we try to shovel into the savory.

April export prices are down around $20/m3 from March at approximately $105/m3 and, although not as bad as some have expected, it’s still low enough to see many harvest crews parked up and many of those that are still operating being slowed to minimise the pain. High Chinese port inventory and low demand are the main culprits with increased shipping costs also playing a part. Demand has started to lift post the lunar holiday shutdown and NZ supply will start to reduce both seasonally and in reaction to the lower log prices. In addition, the Gabrielle windthrow salvage in Taupo has slowed and will likely stop in the next few months which will take around 15,000m3 of supply out of the system daily. There is the expectation that we have seen the bottom of the cycle and some very faint glimmer of hope that May will see better pricing levels with softer shipping costs and increased demand, although any increase is likely to be marginal.

Fixed term export prices and other averaging based price structures have enabled many forest owners to keep the gates open and this method of pricing is becoming more popular every time we have a price ‘correction’. 

Domestic sawlog markets continue to tick over and while not breaking any records, they are continuing to hold price and volume. There will likely be some pressure on this market as numbers from Statistics NZ show 2023 dwelling consents were down 26% on 2022 figures. Pruned logs continue to buck the trend in terms of demand and price and have led to a resurgence in demand for pruning which was almost non-existent in the private sector a few years ago.

Carbon prices fell off the chair following the govt NZU auction in March and following a bit of a rebound have dipped in recent days to $55/NZU. There’s not much of an appetite from larger emitters to engage at present as most have enough to offset their obligations already and won’t need to re-enter the market for some time. As with any market, the NZU price is a victim of supply and demand economics.

So, in summary, April is bad, not as bad as we thought it would be but that’s cold comfort if you’re a forest owner or out-of-work contractor. The market will bounce, as it always does, but this time it may be reminiscent of a half flat Swiss ball, it’ll still bounce but not as high as we would like and will depend on supply levels from NZ. On a positive note, at least we don’t deal in Iron ore…. 

Source: Forest360

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Disaster Resilience Summit delivers positive outcomes

Funding to support disaster resilience in the primary industries was highlighted last week at the South Australian Forest Products Association (SAFPA) disaster resilience summit in Mt Gambier.

A new pilot project led by the Department of Primary Industries and Regions (PIRSA) and Primary Producers SA (PPSA) has received A$770,000 from the State Government’s Disaster Risk Reduction grant program to prepare the agricultural sector and mitigate the impacts of compounding and increasingly complex natural disasters.

Funded through a national partnership agreement between the Commonwealth and South Australian Governments, the project takes an industry-led approach to minimising disruptions to supply chains and maintaining the production and profitability of regional communities.

This support is subsequent to the A$26.7 million investment made by the Malinauskas Government to increase the Country Fire Service’s aerial firefighting fleet, which for the first time has seen a Blackhawk helicopter with 4,500L capacity for water and foam substantively based at Mount Gambier during the 2023/24 fire danger season.

Additionally, the upgrade of the latest fire observation tower in Lucindale South has now been completed featuring game changing artificial intelligence ( technology now rolled out across the region. The cameras are now fully operational at Comaum, Mount Benson, The Bluff, Carpenter Rocks, Mount Burr and Furner.

It is the first time the Pano AI system has been implemented commercially in Australia as part of the South Australian Government’s $2.3 million fire tower network upgrade project, with $1 million targeting the new technology – and it has already been able to assist with early detection of several bushfires in the South East.

Bringing together these advancements for the Limestone Coast region, the Limestone Coast Disaster Resilience Summit was attended by Minister Clare Scriven and Minister Joe Szakacs, and included delegates from across government, industry, and the not-for-profit sector to enhance integrated preparedness across the disaster management spectrum.

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Further details can be found on: Source: Government of South Australia & Image credit: SAFPA

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NZ forestry H&S statistics updated - March 2024

Safetree NZ has released their H&S stats dashboard for March 2024. WorkSafe provides statistics on forestry fatalities and workplace incidents. These investigations help inform us of any key issues or trends as they come to light. 

Overall, there is a downward trend in workplace injuries and fatalities in forestry. While injuries are evenly spread across silviculture, harvesting and unloading/loading log activities, the majority of injuries requiring time off work is in silviculture. Injuries and fatality rates are also higher in forestry than industry averages across New Zealand.

Click here for a high resolution version of this dashboard.

Further details can be found on the Safetree's statistics webpage.

Source: Safetree

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Swiss develop drone to explore forest canopy

Inspired by cockroaches, Swiss researchers have developed a new drone which can push away obstacles and move past them. In the future, it will be used to measure biodiversity in remote areas.

Environmental monitoring in areas with dense vegetation is a major challenge for scientists, according to a press release issued by the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL). Although it is possible to take samples from individual branches, it has not yet been possible to penetrate further into the canopy.

According to the researchers, the greatest difficulty is that the branches are flexible and cause the drone to vibrate. The WSL researchers led by Emanuele Aucone, with researchers from the federal technology institute ETH Zurich and the University of Pisa, sought a solution to this problem. They found it in the body structure of cockroaches, which is streamlined and consists of low-friction material.

Successful tests

They applied this to the drone, which they presented in the journal Nature Communications. The researchers also equipped the drone with spatial intelligence throughout its body, as the WSL explained. The drone was given haptic feedback capability so it can react when it contacts its surroundings.

In initial tests, the cockroach drone was a success. It was able to push away branches with and without leaves and move past them. With a non-streamlined body or a material which causes higher friction, however, the drone got stuck in the experiment. In the next step, the researchers want to improve their drone even further. For example, it should be able to react to several obstacles at the same time.


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ABB Robotics teams-up to deliver affordable timber housing

ABB Robotics announced it is collaborating with UK-based tech start-up AUAR, to advance the use of robotic micro-factories to build affordable, sustainable low energy timber homes.

AUAR’s transformative approach to integrating robotic automation into the building process will tackle skills shortages, boost sustainability, and improve health and safety by deploying robots in a global network of local micro-factories. These micro-factories will construct energy-efficient, affordable buildings from sheet timber. AUAR reports that it has completed a £2.6M seed round led by deep-tech and AI fund Miles Ahead, alongside ABB Robotics & Automation Ventures and several other investors. 

“The increasing capabilities of robots enabled by vision and AI, coupled with their inherent speed, flexibility and consistency, makes them the ideal solution for meeting the growing need for affordable, high quality, sustainable housing,” said Craig McDonnell, Managing Director Business Line Industries, ABB Robotics. “With 95% of building firms in our recent market survey describing sustainability as ‘important’ or ‘very important’ to their businesses, and 38% seeing robots as a way of reducing waste, our collaboration with AUAR opens new possibilities for homebuilders to deliver affordable sustainable homes at scale.”

AUAR is the brainchild of two architects, Mollie Claypool and Gilles Retsin, who have worked for over 10 years on robotics, automation, construction, and architecture. During that time, they have relied extensively on support from ABB Robotics to realise their vision.

The relationship has already seen ABB Robotics win the prize for ‘Best Use of Robotics or Automation in Construction’ at the 2023 Robotics & Automation Awards

The production process uses standard sheets of timber. A robot cuts the sheets into components and assembles them into units that are transported to site, enabling complete customised homes to be built in a matter of weeks. 

“With the focus on the dual needs of building more affordable homes and minimising the environmental footprint of buildings throughout their lifetime, automated modular construction presents a great opportunity to rethink the way that the buildings are constructed,” added McDonnell. “Our collaborations with AUAR and Porsche Consulting mark an exciting step in our efforts to accelerate the use of robotic automation in the construction industry to help address its challenges and deliver the sustainable buildings of the future.”

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Source: ABB

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Proposed forestry rules in Otago an overreaction

The New Zealand Farm Forestry Association has criticised the Otago Regional Council's proposed forestry regulations as an overreaction. The council's draft Land and Water Regional Plan suggests forestry setbacks of 20 to 50 metres from water bodies, compared to the 5 to 10 metres in the National Environmental Standard for Commercial Forestry. The association argues that these rules could lead to significant loss of forestry production land and potential deforestation penalties under the Emissions Trading Scheme.

The Association's President, Neil Cullen, labelled the rules as "quite draconian," highlighting that farmers stand to lose a significant amount of forestry production land. Cullen argued that there's no evidence of forestry causing issues to waterways in Otago, and that the regulations in the region shouldn't be tougher.

Cullen also expressed concern that over-regulating forestry could make it less appealing to farmers who are just considering it, potentially leading them to question its benefits. He also added that with little other activity in forestry blocks, it could be beneficial for water quality, with harvesting crews ensuring no sediment enters waterways.

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Enviva bankruptcy fallout impacting biomass industry

In March, Enviva, the world’s largest woody biomass producer for industrial energy, declared bankruptcy. That cataclysmic collapse triggered a rush of political and economic manoeuvring in the U.S. (a key wood pellet producing nation), and in Europe (a primary industrial biomass energy user in converted coal plants).
  • While Enviva publicly claims it will survive the bankruptcy, a whistleblower in touch with sources inside the company says it will continue failing to meet its wood pellet contract obligations, and that its production facilities — plagued by chronic systemic manufacturing problems — will continue underperforming.
  • Enviva and the forestry industry appear now to be lobbying the Biden administration, hoping to tap into millions in renewable energy credits under the Inflation Reduction Act — a move environmentalists are resisting. In March, federal officials made a fact-finding trip to an Enviva facility and local communities who say the firm is a major polluter.
  • Meanwhile, some EU nations are scrambling to find new sources of wood pellets to meet their sustainable energy pledges under the Paris agreement. The UK’s Drax, an Enviva pellet user (and also a major pellet producer), is positioning itself to greatly increase its pellet production in the U.S. South and maybe benefit from IRA subsidies.
The bankruptcy filing in March by Maryland-based Enviva — the world’s largest maker of wood pellets from forest biomass — is rattling a European Union that relies heavily on biomass as a significant though contested renewable energy source.

The bankruptcy is also invigorating U.S. forest advocates determined to keep the Biden Administration from using new renewable energy credits to bail out the flailing company. On March 21, officials from five federal agencies visited North and South Carolina to see an Enviva pellet-making plant firsthand and hear environmental justice complaints over the impacts it is having on low-income communities.

But the company faces immediate threats to its ongoing viability that transcend its US$2.6 billion debt and negative community impacts, according to a former maintenance manager at two Enviva pellet-making plants in North Carolina and Virginia between 2020 and 2022, and an exclusive Mongabay source.

As many as eight of Enviva’s 10 pellet mills in the U.S. Southeast, he said, are in such poor condition that they are producing fewer pellets monthly at a much higher cost due to intractable and costly maintenance issues.

“There’s no way Enviva is coming out of Chapter 11,” the former employee told Mongabay, referring to a court-ordered reorganisation process by which the firm has a set time to restructure its debt and begin paying back creditors. “Their manufacturing equipment is not fit for the service it’s required to deliver. Only two of its 10 plants (one in Florida, one in Georgia, neither built by Enviva) are hitting their maximum achievable targets for pellet production.”

He added: “They also are not replacing equipment at the plants with the materials that will fix the problems. Plants keep going out of service for days at a time, and Enviva keeps spending millions to patch them up. Every ton of pellets they produce is at a loss. The more they produce, the more money they lose.”

These observations are reflected in Enviva’s public statements: In its March 13 bankruptcy filing, the company said it shipped 5 million metric tons of pellets overseas in 2023. That’s down from 6.2 million metric tons shipped in 2022, a 19.3% decrease at a time when demand for wood pellets in Europe and Asia was increasing.


Source: Mongabay

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Superhuman AI - smarter than every human by 2025

Billionaire tech boss Elon Musk has recently predicted that superhuman artificial intelligence (AI), surpassing human intellect, could become a reality as soon as next year.

If this kind of prediction becomes true, are humans ready to embrace that machines can be smarter than them?

Defining Superhuman AI

With the power of supercomputing that is now leaning on artificial intelligence, Elon Musk believes that superhuman AI can surpass human intelligence next year.

While "superhuman" AI denotes intelligence superior to any individual human at specific tasks, "superintelligent" AI surpasses the combined abilities of all humans across various tasks.

What Musk has forecasted could mean a huge AI development in transit. Of course, it remains questionable since this technology has implications for society.

Musk's concerns and initiatives

Musk's concerns about the consequences of superintelligent AI have been evident in his endeavours. Through his AI startup, xAI, he aims to steer AI development in a direction that prioritises safety and ethical considerations.

Despite acknowledging the potential benefits of advanced AI, the tycoon remains vigilant about avoiding a dystopian future akin to scenarios depicted in science fiction.

Since AI will be the biggest name for the next century to come alongside EV growth, it can leave a lasting impact on electricity and transformer supplies in the next two years.

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Source: Tech Times

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Call for Abstracts – ForestSAT in Rotorua

The abstract submission deadline for ForestSAT in Rotorua has been extended until 20 April 2024. Researchers that have not submitted yet are encouraged to do so via the portal.

This is your opportunity to present original research in the oral or poster format.

When submitting your abstract, you will be asked to select the main area that your abstract aligns with from an extensive list of General Session topics. These include:
  • Detection of drought and water stress
  • Forest and vegetation spectroscopy
  • Forest big data, deep learning
  • Forest health
  • Forest management and policy
  • Forest monitoring
  • Forest resilience monitoring
  • Global Forest Observation
  • Precision forestry
  • Tree species
Submit your abstract via this link.

Scion is hosting ForestSAT in Rotorua on 9-13 September 2024 for the Association for Forest Spatial Analysis Technologies Conference. Speaker and registration details are at

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Balcony damage doesn’t have to be the ‘next big problem’

The prospect of a “looming” balcony crisis in Victorian homes has raised concerns, but proactive measures can be taken to assess and address potential structural issues before they escalate. Timely inspections, maintenance, and necessary repairs can help mitigate risks and ensure the safety and longevity of these properties.

“Analysing the timber species and waterproofing systems used could be a crucial step in understanding why these issues are occurring, especially if the buildings are around 10 years old,” said Professor Tripti Singh, Director of the National Centre for Timber Durability and Design Life. 

Timber is a safe, durable, and predictable material to work with but like anything else, it requires ongoing maintenance. Some are saying that defective balconies are the biggest concern for buildings constructed in the last 15 years, but homeowners can prevent this sort of damage by taking proactive steps to maintain their balconies and other timber home elements. 

Balconies and decks constructed prior to provisions introduced into the National Construction Code (NCC) may not meet current safety standards, as these provisions weren't in place to mandate construction. However, with the implementation of the NCC provisions, decks designed and built to adhere to these provisions are considered to meet safe service life standards when properly maintained.

From design to installation, timber is a durable and sustainable choice when correctly specified and constructed. Choosing a knowledgeable builder who knows the ins and outs of waterproofing and timber construction can provide you the reassurance you need to trust your balcony or raised decking system will last. From recommended timber species, termite protection and weather protection to sub-deck supports, builders can find all the details they need on domestic timber deck design from WoodSolutions.

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Source: WoodSolutions

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Buy and Sell

... and one to end the week on… the best job in the world?

Does this sound like best job in the world:

  • The role is for an Assistant Distillery Manager and Master Blender
  • Based at the brand-new NZ$30 million dollar Scapegrace Distillery
  • On the shores of the beautiful Lake Dunstan in Central Otago, New Zealand.
  • During your days you’ll be collaborating with the team in a world-leading distillery to create the unique and high-quality blends that are known worldwide
  • On your days off you’ll be skiing in the nearby mountains, boating on the lake and enjoying New Zealand’s world-famous nature
If you have 5 years experience of distilling whisky, why not apply for 'the best job in the world'!

And on that note, enjoy your weekend. Cheers.

Ken Wilson
Editor, Friday Offcuts
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