Forestry has played a vita l role in Alabama’s economy since the state’s earliest days. The industry offers diversity to the state and is made of numerous landowners, loggers, forestry researchers, truckers, mills and much more.
Alabama’s forests cover more than two-thirds of the state and generate more than $21 billion in timber production and processing revenue. Chris Isaacson, Alabama Forestry Association executive vice president, says the forestry industry represents just under 10 percent of the state’s total economy and approximately 7 percent of the state’s workforce is employed in jobs directly or indirectly supporting the industry.
“It’s the second-largest manufacturing industry in the state and it’s the largest land-use,” he says. “The size, scope and impact of the industry has been stable over the years, and has its ups and downs in tune with the economy.”
The forestry industry provides much more than just an economic benefit. Forests improve overall water quality and improve the environment. Much needed wildlife habitat is provided by healthy forests.
The Big Three
There are three basic segments to the forest products industry – pulp and paper, solid wood products and energy-related – and each has its own set of demand drivers in terms of economic impact.
In the energy-related segment, Alabama currently has two pellet mills for renewable energy. This area has great growth potential and is expected to increase in the future.
The solid wood segment, primarily saw mills and plywood mills, is heavily tied to home building, representing a higher value.
“This segment drives the return for landowners,” Isaacson says. “They will manage their land to maximize the production of saw timber because that’s where [landowners] get the most return.”
Currently, Alabama has 16 pulp and paper mills. Although lower-value products, they are higher on the manufacturing end because they are value-added products. Because of this, paper and pulp have a bigger economic impact on the state, Isaacson says.
Wood Yards and Logging
Ben Smith, wood procurement manager for the Mahrt Mill in Phenix City, says transportation accounts for a lot of cost associated with wood. Smith, an Alabama Forestry Association board member, stresses the importance of having good and close markets for a landowner.
“Efficient wood yards are key to the supply chain. We are pretty lucky in the state that for the most part, markets are readily available and the transportation fees tend to not be that high,” he says. “Wood yards today run very efficiently and focus on getting trucks in and out, which is valuable to those cutting and hauling the trees.”
From Stump to Consumer
According to Isaacson, when a logger goes out to harvest a track of pine timber, it may have anywhere from two to five types of products on it.
“Generally speaking, it doesn’t just go to one mill. The logger will merchandise the tract in a way that optimizes the value to the landowner,” he says.
Small trees, anywhere from 6 to 10 inches in diameter, will be sent to the paper mill. The mill feeds trees into a digester. Pulp will then be laid out on a screen, run through the machine and turned into paper.
Landscape timbers 10 to 16 inches in diameter, will be taken to a sawmill set up to run small logs and turned into 2-inch-by-4-inch and 4-inch-by-4-inch lumber.
Larger trees, 16 inches in diameter and up, will likely be taken to a mill that produces high-value, wide-dimension lumber. If the wood is high quality, it could go to a plywood mill and be sliced into the more expensive plywood, utility poles or other treated products.
Smith says hardwood logs would go to a hardwood sawmill and be used for flooring or lumber in furniture production.
The entire process involves the landowner, the logger, a wood dealer, the delivery truckers and the mills themselves.
“Alabama is very fortunate to have the amount of forested acres that it does,” Smith says. “It keeps the soil intact and the air fresh, and we as a society benefit from having this vast amount.”