We have written about the low timber prices here in Sweden and the frustration that it has caused the Swedish forest owners. It´s easy to understand the frustration as there seems not much to do for the forest owners than to accept it. The wood buyers are all the same, they pay just as modest no matter if they are forest owners associations or forest industry. What can a single forest owner do? Are there any alternatives to traditional wood buyers?
What are the alternatives?
As always, there are alternatives. The trick is to discover them. Us forestry people are very traditional and most of us find it difficult to think “outside the box”. We are used to selling our timber through the channels that we have always used and that’s difficult to change.
Maybe it was when the south Swedish forest owner’s association Södra bought birch pulpwood in Estonia and paid more than twice as much as their members get in Sweden? Something has happened in Sweden. On forums like our sister-site Skogsforum.se the ideas have flowed. Some want to charter trains to transport timber to other countries where it´s better paid, others suggest ships.
The problem with such ideas is that it takes quite a lot of effort by someone to organize it. There are wood dealers that do this, charter trains, and ships to transport timber to other countries, and have done that for a long time. The problem is that they already have the sources they need and, to be quite honest, have nothing against that the Swedish timber is cheap.
So, the question is: What can a single forest owner do him- or herself? Without having to join any joint projects with other forest owners.
Here are three suggestions that we will dig deeper into in coming articles.
It´s classic. Most forest owners, especially those who live in their forests, make firewood. You have the wood in your forest, you get ridiculously little paid for it by the wood buyers. Why not make firewood of it instead and sell, and probably get much more for it?
An example (in SEK Swedish Krona but see it as a comparison): When you sell birch pulpwood free roadside in Sweden you get approx. 350 SEK per cubic meter solid wood under bark. 1 cubic meter of solid wood under bark equals approx. 2 cubic meters stacked or tipped measurement, which are the most common measurements used for firewood.
For birch firewood, you pay around 1000 SEK per cubic meter stacked measurement. You must pay more if you buy smaller volumes like a 40-liter sack at the gas station. So, you have quite a margin to work with if you want to.
Of course, you will have to have the right equipment, etc. but most forest owners already have some kind of firewood equipment. You will also have to work for it. It’s all about what scale you wish to work in.
Another thing you can do is to make the lumber yourself instead of selling the timber. The price for sawlogs in Sweden is on average 600 – 700 SEK per cubic meter of solid wood under bark. The price for lumber/sawn timber varies but has been close to 10 000 SEK per cubic meter at the most. There seems to be quite a margin to work with also here, but where the investment might be higher. Portable sawmills are probably more expensive than firewood processors. Furthermore, you really must invest to be able to make lumber – you can´t make it with a chainsaw alone as you can firewood.
One idea could be to offer other forest owners to make lumber of their sawlogs to help finance a portable sawmill. If you plan to build something of wood, you should of course make the lumber yourself.
Another idea is to focus on qualities that the normal sawmills can´t handle. There is a shortage of lumber for carpentry in Sweden. The best qualities are difficult to find as most sawmills only handle bulk assortments.
This is the most exciting idea, and most up-to-date. If you can get paid to let the forest stand it would be the best solution for many. It´s almost too good to be true, but still, it is true. I know someone who made a deal for carbon storage for a small piece of his forest. One can only state that it´s here. The question is if it will ever break through. We will have to wait and see about that.
If it breaks through it will be very exciting. At least two things will happen 1. The wood buyers will go nuts. 2. The timber prices will go up. But that’s exactly what we want – the prices to go up anyway.
We will be back on this
“Need is the mother of all inventions”, I have mentioned before. Here we are not talking about inventions but different ways of thinking and acting. We will get back to the ideas above in separate articles in a near future.
Keep an eye on Forestry.com!