Timber market downturn concerns La. landowners

Forest landowners voiced concerns about a lack of mills where they can sell their crop during the Florida Parishes Forestry Forum April 5.
The meeting came as landowners grapple with an overall downtown in the timber market — the effects of which have been compounded locally by the recent partial closure of the Georgia-Pacific paper mill north of Baton Rouge.
Unless there’s an increase in the demand for forest products or more mills come into the area, there probably won’t be much change in the short term for the average grower, said Whitney Wallace, LSU AgCenter forestry and wildlife resource agent.
“We know that we have to discuss these major challenges, like the lack of markets and the decline in the number of mills,” Wallace said. “We wanted to bring them together to look at all sides of the challenges so we can develop a strategy.”
Buck Vandersteen, executive director of the Louisiana Forestry Association, said the industry is like a three-legged stool.
“It depends on landowners who grow the trees, the loggers who harvest the trees and get them from the forest to the mills, and the mills to produce them into useable products,” he said.
When all three legs are healthy, so is the industry, Vandersteen said. But right now, there is a problem with the mill leg.
“We wanted to remind the growers to not lose hope,” he said. “We are constantly looking for markets to fill the void that we are experiencing right now.”
Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Mike Strain said his office is working on a plan to export more timber around the globe.
“We must export more timber. We are now up to 15 million acres of timber in the state, and we have to have a market for it,” he said.
AgCenter economist Shaun Tanger said the southeastern part of the state has been hit hardest by the loss of mills.
“We have some challenges in this part of the state, but we don’t have a wood problem. We have a market problem,” he said.
Tanger said there currently is a market for small-diameter pine for two-by-fours and some hardwood, but not much else.
Randall Sibley, a Livingston Parish logger, said area mills are full, and the ability to move wood out of them is a major task.
Since Georgia-Pacific drastically scaled down operations at its Port Hudson facility earlier this year, Sibley has been hauling to St. Francisville and Gloster, Mississippi.
“We’re now hauling one or two loads per day, which is down from about four loads per day,” Sibley said. “The mills just can’t handle the amount wood that we’re bringing.”
The forum also featured information on new tax laws that will affect the timber industry. Deductions for hobby and investment properties have been eliminated, said tax attorney Paul Spillers.
AgCenter wildlife specialist Ashley Long discussed chronic wasting disease in deer and the continuing problem of feral hogs in Louisiana.
“The disease has recently been confirmed in areas of Texas, Arkansas and Mississippi,” she said. “Even though there have been no confirmed cases of the disease here in Louisiana, we still have to keep our eyes open.”
Long told participants they should do whatever they can to get rid of feral hogs in the state because of the amount of damage they cause.

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