Wednesday, April 23, 2014

A Grower's Take on The Terrible Traditional Timber Market – April 2014


The Country Today, an agricultural newspaper published in Wisconsin, printed an article by landowner Dick Hall on April 16th - about the sad market situation faced by every forest owner in the State.  Hall states, “If you take time to do the math, your annual cost of production over a cutting cycle nearly always exceeds your per acre returns at harvest time.   When a farmer markets hogs or grain he knows instantly what prices to expect.  Timber prices are not available in the same way.”
Trees and logs are an agricultural commodity where the supply always has exceeded the demand, resulting in very low market prices.  Industrial globalization of the timber market has augmented this effect in the past few decades, producing the lowest demand ever for Wisconsin timber and very low market prices – well below the costs of production for a landowner.  Forest owners at best receive about 1% of the value of wood products in the stores.  All the foresters, loggers, truckers, sawmillers, etc earn a professional and profitable wage for their efforts, but the grower and the forests are typically taken advantage of by the Trillion dollar per year timber industry for their short term greed.
Making things worse for the forest owner are all the government forestry programs that are supposed to help them.  Hall, for the second time in two weeks also writes about the folly of the Managed Forest Law in Wisconsin.  Landowners are encouraged to enter this property tax program by unfair high property taxes on their forest land and the government foresters talk of “sound forest management.”   It sounds like a good thing for a landowner until they realize they must now harvest all their “mature” trees at low market prices that don’t even begin to cover their costs of owning and managing timber.  Forest owners also find they are forced to surrender control of their management plan, timber marking, and actual harvesting of trees on their lands to outsider “professionals” who are there to make good money for their work just today, leaving the landowner with a mess, damaged lands for the future, and a pittance of income that smacks of unfairness and abuse.
This timber market is well known by landowners while the professional foresters keep their heads in the sand hoping no one will notice.  The situation continues due to the dominance of a few huge corporations over the market and the government foresters and politicians, and the bottom line compromise for everyone  is that “something is better than nothing”.
Foresters as a group ignore the ethics of their profession to sustain their own paychecks.  The profession puts out prolific propaganda on the many merits of sustainable forest management to keep the masses of forest owners quiet and in the flock of “sheeple” until it is their time for slaughter – to feed the industrial  mills.  Foresters doing harvests for landowners typically choose to sacrifice the whole forest for their own instant greed, when their training should have taught them to sustainably harvest just the ‘wool’ - the annual growth, every year for a long term regular income, and only take the “mature” harvest when the individual loses its’ growth vigor.  Sustainable forestry to a professional forester is whatever sustains their own paycheck.  No forester could live on the value of the ‘advice and help’ they dole out to forest owners.  Cover ups are common and whistleblowers are ignored in the forestry profession.
The timber industry takes advantage of the tree growers and local communities in many ways, and even forces many small loggers and timber buyers to cheat the landowner just to survive.   Fraud and timber theft are rampant around the world with the rationalization is that “everyone does it and if you arrest me, you will have to arrest everyone”.  A few get rich at the expense of the planet and the people and the forestry profession keeps on talking about sustainable and green. 
Everyone is afraid to talk about this – the corporations are so powerful they control the market from top to bottom.  Foresters just protect their own jobs and growers don’t want to lose the disappointing payments – anything is better than nothing.
Forests in this region are producing about 25% of their potential growth due to high grade harvesting, over cutting, and neglect.  Less than 1 % of forest owners actively manage their crop in an informed and  business-like way.  Growers receive about 1% of the value of the wood products in the store, way less than their costs of ownership and management.   Forest owners know the truth.
There is an alternative = a better way. 
A hundred years ago, small business in the local community supplied the needs using locally grown and manufactured wood products.  This still works today – wood is the perfect fuel for small business in the local economy.  Wood is simple to grow and process and sell on a small scale, we all use wood products every day.  All the tools and methods and information are readily available today.
Wood customers can choose right now, today – to support local small business and simply avoid the exploitation of our planet and people by the big timber corporations.  Choose to buy local wood from small business and the demand will immediately be decreased - to clear cut the remaining rain forests and use illegally logged trophy wood.

Jim Birkemeier – Timber Grower
Spring Green, WI

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