In the United States, the Southeast and the Northwest are the major players in the timber market. Although one of them produce some timber, the second is the real Kingdom of Pulpwood due to one great advantage over the rest of the country. Click to continue!
Competitive advantages of Southeastern U.S.
Although the Northeast and the Great Lakes produce some timber, the Southeast U.S. is the real Kingdom of Pulpwood due to one great advantage over the rest of the country.
One of the most important competitive advantages of Southeastern U.S. is the private ownership. Out of more than 200 million acres (ca. 81 million hectares) of timberland, over 90% are in private hands! Interestingly, the Southeastern United States left the public domain more than 150 years ago, and since then, in no other part of the U.S., perhaps the world, has such significant timber market been left to a generally unregulated private sector.
>>READ MORE: Does EU destroy forests in Southeast U.S?
In comparison, the Pacific Northwest has less than 50 million acres (20 million ha) and most of its timberlands are publicly held.
The consequence of this significant disparity is that over 60% of nation’s timber is produced by 13 Southeastern states. In other words, 27% of all U.S. forests or 40% of all productive forests, are able to produce majority of merchantable timber in the whole country.
All above conditions have implied that investment opportunities for intensive forest management on these lands and subsequent product manufacture have improved in the South relative to other regions.
Two other great advantages of SE U.S. are: historically lower costs of delivering wood to mills, and shorter distances between wood industry and forest properties.
There are 4 main commercial tree species planted in the South, all of them are pines: Slash Pine, Loblloly Pine, Longleaf Pine and Sand Pine. You can see their range and photos in the picture below.
How does the forest investment cycle look like?
The company (that I was visiting), before soil preparation and planting, was performing the research about the soil type and groundwater level, in order to find which species are the most suitable for analyzed sites. Based on the soil properties, which shape growing conditions, foresters are selecting those pine species, which are the best fitted to them, and which will result in the highest productivity in the future. The soil coring kit, shown below, is used for soil profile description and classification.
Site preparation and planting
Usually, site preparation follows a harvesting operation where the merchantable trees have been removed through a logging operation. Therefore, preparing a site for the regeneration of tree seedlings is vital to promote the successful establishment, survival and growth of the next generation of forest on your land.
The main aim of site preparation is to: remove or reduce competing vegetation, reduce or remove unwanted trees and logging debris, and/or prepare the soil to promote the growth and survival of desired tree species. Usually the site preparation is performed in the South by the use of large machinery such as bulldozers, skidders, tractors with certain implements attached to them.
>>READ MORE: Why interest rates differ in timberland investments?
There are many methods of site preparation that fall under either chemical or mechanical site preparation. The primary objective is to have an area suitable for planting and establishing a new stand of trees.
Mechanical practices are reliable methods of preparing an area to be reforested either by direct seeding or planting seedlings. However, use can be restricted somewhat by wet weather, poor drainage or extremes in topography.
Debris management – V Shear
The site, which I had a pleasure to visit, was prepared by shearing. Shearing is a common method of site preparation where a K-G, or V- blade is attached to a large bulldozer. This method of site preparation is one of the most effective ones in terms of debris management, where there are a lot of residual trees left on the site. For instance, in regenerating hardwood trees, shearing is a very good method to initiate natural regeneration by stump sprouting. On the other hand, in regenerating pines, the sheared area could be prescribed burn to reduce the debris prior to planting and reduce the number of hardwood sprouts.
Tillage – bedding
After the shearing, it is time for bedding. Bedding is a site preparation method to plow up the soil much like in agriculture except the top of the row is packed down with some type of roller. Soils near the top of the bed are drier and warmer sooner in the spring than unbedded areas, which promotes early root growth. Early root growth increases the chance of successful establishment and accelerates seedling growth. Bedding plows are often pulled by crawler tractors or rubber-tired skidders. Bedding with the contour of the land (against the slope) is essential to minimize soil erosion on upland sites. Finally, bedding should not occur on sites prone to droughts as the roots are further away from the water table and the beds may dry out during a prolonged drought. It is quite common that shearing and bedding are often combined as the area needs to be relatively free of debris. One of the biggest advantage of bedding is that the tree planters have a definite row to follow when planting the seedlings.
Planting – Wheel
Planting in the South is usually performed either by hand planting or by a wheel. Harvesters are not very popular in the U.S. South due to high costs of operation.
What is the planting density for loblolly pine? The planting density depends mostly on site quality and objectives, and may vary between 1500-2000 seedlings per ha. However, Professor David South in the report entitled “What Is The “Correct” Planting Density For Loblolly Pine?… Depends On Who You Ask” recommends 346 seedlings per acre (around 850 seedlings/hectare). In this report, interestingly Professor South explains why there are such differences between recommended seedlings densities. Some of the reason can include: holding on to traditional practices; assuming a low price ratio between sawtimber and pulpwood ($S/P); using poor quality seedlings; relying on an unrealistic growth-and-yield program; assuming logging costs do not vary with log size; assuming everyone’s land is close to a mill; and a fear that a low stocking will reduce both wood quality and stumpage values.
END OF PART I
In the second part, you will read about the wood supply chain in the SE U.S.
Main photo: Pinus taeda seedling. Author of the photo: Rafał Chudy
Big thanks to Rayonier company for organizing an ispiring field trip during 2017 Timberland Investment Conference