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Timber industry salvages profits
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Hurricane Katrina slammed two year's timber harvest volume to the ground, but the forecast for the industry value still shows a slight increase over 2004.
Bob Daniels, forestry professor with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, is predicting the forestry value of production for the state to be $1.27 billion, a 1 percent increase over the previous year's value. This estimate is based on timber severance tax collections and timber prices through October.
“The 2005 increased timber value comes on the strength of increased average prices for hardwood logs and pulpwood,” Daniels said. “Mississippi's timber economy was continuing the recovery it started in 2004 until Katrina disrupted production. Most lumber mills resumed within a few weeks and have continued processing logs to meet a strong lumber demand.”
Salvage and recovery are key words for the future of the industry. Loggers began the slow and dangerous work of salvaging damaged timber soon after the hurricane. Many wet decks (yards with water sprinkling systems) have been set up to help preserve the wood as long as possible. While stumpage prices immediately fell as fast as the trees, the Coast's building boom in the coming year should help timber prices recover.
Daniels estimated that forest landowners will have collected more than $860 million for the sale of standing timber in 2005.
“Statewide pine sawtimber average prices dropped by 10 percent, but the timber was in strong demand,” he said. “Mississippi's pine sawtimber demand was fueled by strong national housing construction and rebuilding.”
Daniels said demand for softwood lumber in 2004 was an all-time record high in the United States. Demand remained strong in 2005, although not at the record levels.
“I'm optimistic that we will continue to see strong demand for lumber in 2006. New Orleans and the Gulf Coast will be involved in reconstruction for a long time,” Daniels said. “The biggest losers from the hurricane will be the landowners who cannot salvage their timber. Typically, 70 percent or more of damaged trees are wasted after a hurricane.”
Glenn Hughes, area Extension forestry specialist based in south Mississippi, said efforts are under way to salvage timber as quickly as possible.
“Every day you go without harvesting, you are losing value,” Hughes said. “Hardwoods blown over at the roots will retain their quality longer, but most of the value in the damaged timber is in pines.”
Hughes said pines are more apt to break rather than blow over and have to be salvaged quicker. Harvesting damaged timber also is more difficult. Loggers will have to use more chain saws, which are more dangerous and slower than more mechanized equipment. Salvage efforts will continue well into 2006, first focusing on pines and later on hardwoods.
“We are not going to see many timber sales of undamaged timber in south Mississippi until the salvage operation is complete in 2006. Landowners would be wise to hold undamaged timber until the market improves,” Hughes said.
Forestry ranks as the state's No. 2 agricultural commodity. Poultry maintained its top spot with a $1.97 billion value, down 6 percent. Cotton holds the No. 3 spot with a value of $697 million, down 5 percent.