Louisiana landowners are grappling 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, at the Florida Parishes Forestry forum.
“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 usable products,” he said.
When all three legs are healthy, so is the industry. But right now, there is a problem with the mill leg.
“We wanted to remind the growers to not lose hope,” Vandersteen 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.
The state has been hit hardest by the loss of mills creating a market problem. There currently is a market for small-diameter pine for two-by-fours and some hardwood, but not much else.
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, Randall Sibley, a Livingston Parish logger, 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 of wood that we’re bringing.”